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St. Paul interracial romance is not a true story but parts of the play are true

Those who know husbands Christopher Bineham and Harrison David Rivers may recognize details in "The Bitter Earth" at Penumbra Theatre.

The characters in "This Bitter Earth" -- a black playwright and a white activist -- are not prolific black playwright Harrison David Rivers and his white husband, activist/writer Christopher Bineham. But Rivers says he's an autobiographical playwright and Bineham agrees that there are similarities between art and life in the play, which begins performances April 24 at Penumbra Theatre:

1. The couple in the play and the couple in real life both click pretty quickly.

2. The script's description of the play couple's home exactly corresponds to the St. Paul condo where Bineham and Rivers used to live.

3. The detail of the black character in the play bringing a bouquet of ranunculi to his potential future in-laws comes directly from real life: They're Rivers' favorite flower and he did, in fact, buy a bouquet of them at Mill City Farmer's Market to bring when he first met his in-laws.

Bineham says people in Rivers' circle simply know that details he observes could find their way into his plays. But the plays are not documentaries: "Neither of the characters in the play are us and, actually, the relationship, while there are elements of it that are like our relationship, it isn't really like [ours], even though specific events have been lifted into the play."

University of Minnesota to stage 'Battle for the Vox' a cappella event with rival Wisconsin singers

University of Minnesota students rehearsed for the 2016 Battle of the Vox event. (Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune)

The Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalry will take a sharper tone this week — one with crisp diction and incisive rhythms.    

A cappella groups from the University of Minnesota will host a competitive concert called “Battle for the Vox,” a nod to the annual late-season "Battle for the Axe" Gophers vs. Badgers football game.

“It’s a big way to showcase all the talent at those universities,” explained U of M student Steven Vogel, who helped organize the event. “A lot of times it gets missed.”

This year’s battle will is set for Saturday at Northrop auditorium and features nine competing groups — five from the University of Minnesota, three from UW-Madison and one from University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire. More than 130 collegiate singers will participate.

This marks the second-ever Battle for the Vox (which is Latin for "voice"). University of Minnesota hosted the inaugural event in 2016, with plans to alternate between campuses. However, Wisconsin a cappella groups failed to make good on the 2017 installment. "It didn't work out on their end," said Vogel, "which is unfortunate."

The rivaling singers maintain good relations, though, and insist upon a fully collaborative affair. A cappella groups will engage in a little friendly competition in several categories, including pop hits and ballads. Concertgoers will get to vote on their favorites, with the winning state taking home a trophy.

Tickets are $12 for students, $18 for everybody else. Call 612-624-2345 or visit

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