Religion, sexuality and teen angst collide in Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo’s gay-themed, sung-through 2000 pop opera “bare,” adequately staged in its local premiere by Playhouse South.
Warmly incorporating a “Romeo and Juliet” subtext, “bare” vividly and provocatively captures a coming of age romance at a co-ed Catholic boarding school. As the common thread of teen concerns take shape from body image and drug use to the questioning of faith and authority, Peter (Mike Embree in his most complex, emotionally gripping performance to date) and Jason (an equally admirable Zach King) are depicted as soul mates realistically trapped by fear. While Peter grapples with God’s will in his life, Jason, popular and closeted, struggles with sexual identity, ultimately directing his attention toward the oblivious Ivy (pleasant soprano Chelsea Walters) with serious consequences. This melodramatic yet engaging love triangle adds momentum to the plot since the dominant cultural vs. spiritual debate, which remains polarizing among religious circles, grows predictably heavy-handed.
Additionally, Lindsay Sherman, TC Schreier, Eric Bracht and Angie Thacker are strong in featured roles. Sherman, witty and heartbreaking as the self-conscious Nadia, delivers a lovely rendition of “Quiet Night at Home.” Schreier is appropriately intimidating as Matt. Bracht effectively embodies the hardened Priest who refuses to acknowledge the anguish in his students. The zestful, comedic Thacker, who sings the gospel-tinged “God Don’t Make No Trash,” delights as Sister Chantelle, a sassy drama teacher. The vocally strong cast also includes Matthew Glenn, Stephanie Shubert, Amber Todd, Jess Freesen, Angela Dermer, Brett Norgaard and Ann Potter.
Director Jamal Cann grasps the earnestness of the material, specifically in the confessional scenes, but his vision would have been better served in an intimate concert setting. After all, musical director Kyle Freeson’s overpowering band is so loud they repeatedly drown out the cast, rendering multiple lyrics utterly unintelligible. Perhaps if the show was only accompanied by a keyboardist and drummer and staged with the cast permanently planted center stage, the score, a melodic yet overstuffed blend of introspective ballads and pop anthems, could come alive with greater comprehension.
Even so, “bare” boldly resonates at its core and packs a thought-provoking punch.
“bare” continues June 21 and 23 at 8 p.m. at the Clark Haines Theatre (Kettering Board of Education Building), 3700 Far Hills Ave., Kettering. Act One: 75 minutes; Act Two: 60 minutes. Tickets are $7-$12. In addition, the gay-themed relationship drama “Stop Kiss” runs concurrently with “bare” and will have its final performance June 22 at 8 p.m. Both shows are involved with the Trevor Project. For tickets or more information to both shows, call 1-888-262-3792 or visit www.playhousesouth.org.