BWW Reviews: New Line Theatre Presents Powerful and Provocative BARE: A POP OPERA
At a time in our history when gay teens are committing suicide at an astoundingly high rate, a show like bare: a pop opera shines a bright and important light on their struggles to deal with their difficulties in coping with accepting, and be accepted, for who they are. There are no easy answers to be found here, only questions that demand real solutions and not simple platitudes or religious dogma. New Line Theatre's current production of bare is a devastatingly powerful presentation that features a strong and talented cast performing at an exceptional level under director Scott Miller's sure hand.
Jason and Peter are both Catholic high school seniors who have grown up over the years as something more than just friends, exploring their feelings for one another emotionally and sexually. But, while Peter wants to be open about their relationship, Jason remains guarded and secretive, afraid of the consequences any disclosure would result in, both from his stern father, and from the college he hopes to attend. Instead, he's spent his time in denial, funneling his energies into sports, and earning entrance into the prestigious University of Notre Dame in the process. And, he's a good looking young lad, the envy of all the boys and an object of lust for all the young girls. When he unexpectedly decides to take Peter up on his suggestion to audition for the school's musical production of Romeo and Juliet events transpire that mirror the more tragic elements of Shakespeare's classic work.
Mike Dowdy and Jacob Golliher give wonderful performances as Peter and Jason, respectively, defining each character with considerable distinction. You feel for Peter's loneliness, especially when his mother (Claire), who's marvelously essayed by Alison Helmer, ignores his attempts to tell her about his sexuality, preferring to remain in a state of denial, even though that maintains a distance between them. Golliher makes his New Line debut in fine fashion, crafting a well rounded interpretation that leaves the audience feeling as though they've been punched in the gut when he makes a most unfortunate decision.
Terrie Carolan is very good as Ivy, the school's resident "slut", who falls hard for Jason and winds up pregnant after a night of bliss with the confused young man. Charlotte Byrd makes a vivid impression as Jason's sister sarcastic and self-deprecating sister Nadia, who's overweight, but extremely bright and sensitive. Byrd has two brilliant turns in the show, shining on "Plain Jane Fat Ass", and accompanying herself on solo cello during the poignant "Spring". Nikki Glenn does superior work as Sr. Chantelle, the hard-assed Nun with a heart of gold who delivers the true message song of the production when she sings "God Don't Make No Trash" to the distraught Peter. Zachary Allen Farmer gives a terrifically restrained performance as the Priest who can offer no real advice of substance to the kids in his charge.
The rest of the cast is also excellent, providing top notch vocal support, and includes: Jonathan Foster (Matt), Rahamses Galvan (Lucas, the resident drug dealer of the group), Nyssa Duchow (Diane), Chance Kilgour (Zach), Sarah Porter (Rory), John Michael Rotello (Alan), and Michelle Sauer (Tanya).
Director Scott Miller's work is exemplary, as he guides the action and actors with sensitivity and understanding that bring this important work by Jon Hartmere Jr. (book, lyrics) and Damon Intrabartolo (composer, book) to life. He's aided by Todd Schaefer's suggestive scenic design, which features a dramatically lit cross hanging ominously over the proceedings. Thom Crain's costumes are good character fits, and even though most of the actors are wearing their school uniforms, they're delineated just enough to distinguish each person. Kenneth Zinkl's lighting acts to heighten the drama and bring the key moments squarely into focus.
The band, tight as always, shows a good deal of restraint and features: Justin Smolik (piano/conductor), D. Mike Bauer (lead guitar, flute), Aaron Doerr (rhythm guitar), Sue Goldford (keyboard), Dave Hall (bass) and Clancy Newell (percussion).
New Line Theatre's powerful and provocative production of bare: a pop opera is must-see theatre, providing the kind of experience that absolutely defines modern musical theatre, mixing catchy, open-ended compositions with an undeniably important subject matter.
This production continues through June 25, 2011. Make an effort to see it soon!
photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg