'BARE: A POP OPERA': Theatre Review by Andrea Holstein
King’s Players’ musical this season is bare: A Pop Opera written by John Hartmere Jr. and Daman Intrabartolo. The Priest (Benjamin Braz) delivers the line “Don’t question too much and you’ll get along fine” halfway through Act 2, but this line covers the general theme of this tragic coming-of-age piece. bare follows a group of Catholic boarding school seniors who are trying to explore their sexuality within the confines of their religion. This journey from adolescence to adulthood is further challenged by secrecy, drug use, and homophobia, among other social issues.
The first thing that struck me about bare actually occurred before the show started. I opened my programme only to be confronted with the line “36 songs.” And no, that wasn’t a typo—the entirety of the narrative was communicated in 36 brilliantly done songs. The actors successfully carried us through the narrative with songs of tender love and affection, raw passion, pain, desire, suffering, confusion—an entire rollercoaster of the spectrum of adolescent emotion. Central to the plot of bare is a love-triangle between Peter (Stephen Ingram), Jason (Kurtis Whittle), and Ivy (Stephanie Masden). The excellent chemistry between Stephen and Kurtis only made the complicated relationship of their characters that much more heart wrenching to watch. Both of these actors sang with such raw passion—it was impossible to listen to them maintain the pain their characters felt in their speaking and singing voices and not feel something. Kurtis did a wonderful job communicating Jason’s frustration in “Ever After,” seamlessly transitioning between speaking, shouting, and singing. Peter’s own frustration at his situation is beautifully contrasted with his mother’s (Christine Rabey) denial of reality in “See Me.”
The character of Ivy functions primarily as a personification of the obstacles that Peter and Jason’s relationship face. As a result, Ivy’s plotline is equally tragic, as she also has to find her place in the world of bare. This dilemma is explored through “All Grown Up,” where the set is split between the world of Jason and Peter, and of Ivy and Nadia (Kara Pihlak). Stephanie’s voice is hauntingly beautiful in this scene as she carries us through Ivy’s crisis. This reflects Nadia’s earlier realization of where she fits in this world in “Plain Jane Fat Ass.” Both of these actresses sang so sorrowfully at moments that, despite the differences in how they operate in this world, you begin to pity them for the similarities of their struggles.
The casting was very well done and each actor brought great energy to the piece. The dynamism of Sister Chantelle/Mary (Kelsey Alyssa) and her Herculean Muses (angels, played by Irma Natale and Sammy Koladich) complimented the softer, but equally powerful, presence of Kurtis’ sister, Nadia. The somewhat ambiguous character of the Priest neatly contrasted the emotionally-explicit Kurtis (and later, Peter) in the confessional scenes. The interactions of the ensemble with Dianne (Rachel Sterling) provided a few moments of comic relief to diffuse the tension, and drew big laughs from the audience.
The entire cast was mic’d for the performance, which was great for catching all of the nuances of the songs. This did cause a few issues in the beginning of the piece while the tech crew struggled to coordinate the audio for this large ensemble. The set for bare is incredibly ambitious, and all of the different set changes did make for a very visually-interesting performance. This elaborate set resulted in a number of transitions but—and I wish I could sugar-coat this—after the third or fourth long wait in the dark, the delays for the transitions started to take their toll. I found that, for me at least, these long transitions affected my emotional response to the piece as they would break up heavy sections of narrative where I felt like a shorter transition would have kept me emotionally invested. The band did a phenomenal job playing through each transition, and special mention goes to the cellist (John Kosty) who blew us away during the transition following “Ever After.” The band did an incredible job overall, and the tech team successfully balanced the audio of the singers so that neither the band nor the vocalists were ever in competition with one another.
The lighting was very powerful in this piece. I was struck by a moment near the end of it when Peter is singing solo and, all of the sudden, the lights go down on him and the only part of the stage that is still illuminated is the cross in the background. That moment was an emotionally-charged punctuation mark at the end of a beautiful sentence, and that visual left a lasting impression on me. “No Voice” may be the song that closes the piece, but bare is far from silent about addressing the challenges and struggles that young adults face.
bare: A Pop Opera is playing for one more night (January 31st) at the Joanne and Peter Kenny Theatre. Tickets are available at the door and by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The performance addresses topics of homosexuality, drug use, questions of religion, and other social issues. Support services are available outside of the theatre for those who may require them. The piece also makes use of strobe light effects and they caution you to take your medical history into consideration when considering attending.