Theater review: “bare: a pop opera” Creates a World Where Unconventional Love Hides Behind Closed Doors
Catholic school students sure know how to rave in Richmond Triangle Players’ tense production of “bare: a pop opera.” But while the school rector would most surely disapprove of their late night bacchanalia in Act I, the party-going – replete with red plastic cups, a huge penis-shaped piñata and Hawaiian leis made of condoms – epitomizes the timeless teenage itch to defy expectations, break the rules and – carpe diem! – have some fun.
Set at St. Cecilia’s Boarding School, “bare” centers its story on gay students and secret lovers Peter (Ian Page) and Jason (Sam Jones) – Peter the nerdy idealist; Jason the popular golden boy. While the rock musical, with lyrics by Jon Hartmere and music by Damon Intrabartolo (both co-wrote the book), explores their furtive romance, there’s a familiarity to their story: Peter wants to acknowledge their relationship openly; Jason stubbornly refuses.
And so it’s obvious Peter and Jason represent a tale as old as time for many gay men: one partner sees the relationship as reality; the other as fantasy; yet both will have to deal with a social context that could be accepting or hostile. Alas, the musical is not a subtle portrait of furtive love: interludes of the two lovers rehearsing “Romeo and Juliet” – a tragic parallel – and the musical’s ending imbue what could be moments of tender poignancy with abrupt melodrama.
Even so, layered against these two star-crossed lovers, the musical also nicely dramatizes the struggles that their straight peers face: Jason’s sister Nadia (Kelsey Cordrey) struggles with self-consciousness, loneliness and jealousy; school wanton Ivy (Morgan Meadows) confronts lust and painful rejection; and Matt (Austin Tate) goes after unrequited love and keeps a secret to himself.
All the actors strongly personify their roles: Page expresses his character Peter as the relatable, nerdy idealist; Jones’ Jason segues from passionate romantic behind closed doors to coy philanderer in the school hallways. Tate is assured as the luckless Matt; Lucian Restivo as Lucas has a lot of fun rapping about Schedule III drugs in “Wonderland.”
But it’s Cordrey’s Nadia and Meadows’ Ivy – both vulnerable and fragile – who are the emotional powerhouse here: Cordrey’s “Plain Jane Fate Ass” reveals teenage female issues of feeling invisible, unattractive and hopeless; and Meadows’ “All Grown Up” discloses a painful truth of growing up: We never truly leave behind the blissful irresponsibility of childhood.
And under Justin Amellio’s direction, the rich production values – from Kim Fox’s deft musical direction, Rebecca K. Brooks’ colorful lighting, T. Rosss Aitken’s altar set and Alex Valentin’s Catholic school uniforms – coalesce to create a world where unconventional love hides behind closed doors, teenagers treat each other viciously but the yearn to love differently never fades.
What’s even better about “bare”? The Virgin Mary played by Chloe Williams appears to Peter in a dream as Diana Ross – talk about The Queen of Flaming Hearts for sure.
“bare: a pop opera” runs through August 17 at Richmond Triangle Players. For more information or to purchase tickets here
Matthew Miller is the former arts editor and chief theater critic for GAYRVA.com. A Chicago native, he holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently resides in Richmond, VA and is a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Matthew Miller on Twitter twitter.com/matthewkmiller
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