BWW Review: BARE - ATP's Youthful Pop Opera Stunningly Beautiful
Austin Theatre Project's current production BARE, playing at the Trinity Street Theatre, is a work of love and stunning beauty.
BARE, a 'pop opera' with book by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo, music by Damon Intrabartolo and lyrics by Jon Hartmere, is a modern tragedy of young love and guilt set in a Catholic boarding school. The show opens with Peter (Rodrigo M. Zaragoza) drowning in his self condemnation for being gay. His heart belongs to Jason (Andrew Brett), the boy popular among his peers who returns Peter's love but lives in mortal fear of being outed. Their classmates fill out the high school version of the usual suspects, the flirt, the nerd, the goth, the drug dealer, the overweight girl, and the mindless boys. Ivy (Alicia Cornwell), the class beauty sets her cap for Jason who is at first confused by her advances but finally succumbs to his need to prove he is not gay. Interwoven into the teenage conflict is a production of Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET, directed by Sister Chantelle (Allegra Fox), the witty, no nonsense nun who leads some of the shows best songs. BARE is written in an operatic style where most of the dialogue is sung and only a few words are spoken. I usually find that this type of musical is less than ideal. When powerful and purposeful songs are strung together by mediocre, repetitious music it lessens the impact of the song. The same thing can be said of important dialogue, it loses potential impact when sung instead of spoken. However my personal quibbles are with the script, not the cast who put their soul into every moment, rising far above the material given to them. Ultimately the production is a cautionary tale; love can overcome so much in life, but guilt, fear and societal expectation can be a deadly combination. There are few more powerful forces than guilt as dispensed by the Catholic Church, having been raised in the church and being the parent of a transgender child, this hits very close to home with me.
BARE is an utterly stunning experience, deeply moving and excellently presented. Director Jeff Hinkle has done an outstanding job in every facet of the production. He gets the absolute most out of his young cast, placing them, like a jewel, in the perfect setting where they can shine. His set is neat and efficient, set changes are fluid and slick. The cast is fantastic as an ensemble, working as a single voice in some scenes. Standouts include Andrew Brett as Jason who makes us feel his conflict on a deeply personal level. As Ivy, Alicia Cornwell gives an outstanding performance as the pretty girl who feels every harsh word like a physical blow. Cat Phillips' Nadia, Jason's overweight sister,hiding her secret pain behind a vicious exterior is excellent. As Sister Chantelle, Allegra Fox rocks the stage with every entrance. Her songs '911! Emergency' and 'God Don't Make No Trash' are stellar showstoppers. But it's Rodrigo Zaragoza that is the heart of the production. As Peter, he wrings every ounce of emotion out of his songs and holds us in rapt attention. It's his exquisite reactions that we breathlessly await and he delivers with incomparable honesty and depth. James Jennings' lighting design is inspired, giving us pure emotion in his illumination and brilliant use of color. His use of rainbow lighting for 'God Don't Make No Trash' is my particular favorite. Costumes designed by Veronica Prior are impressive, while given the parameters of Catholic school uniforms, she still gives each character visual variety and character. Choreography by Chris Ehresman is awesome, giving each actor individuality of movement that suits their roles within the group scenes. David Blackburn's musical direction is virtually flawless, the entire cast sounds terrific and the band is equal to task. The principal take away from BARE, while a few tears are shed, is ultimately the hope that we can be more enlightened, more loving, and less judgmental than the characters in the play.
I give my highest recommendation to ATP's BARE, a powerful production, whose light should shine into every heart. The subject matter and language is very adult and should certainly considered before bringing children to the theatre. The timing couldn't be more perfect with June being LGBT Pride month; a poignant reminder that everyone is worthy of love and acceptance.
Book by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo
Music by Damon Intrabartolo
Lyrics by Jon Hartmere
Directed by Jeff Hinkle
Music Direction by David Blackburn
Trinity Street Theatre, 901 Trinity Street, 4th Floor, Austin
June 9 - 24
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission
Tickets: $15 - $30, austintheatreproject.org