A Catholic boarding school. A clandestine same-sex love affair. One partner dying to tell all, one partner, ready to die to keep the secret. Gee, what could go wrong, you ask innocently? Well, that question gets fabulously answered in Iron Crow Theatre’s production of “Bare,” by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo. And while this is no one’s feel-good musical of the year, it is definitely an entertaining evening of revelations and in-your-face talent within the intimate confines of Theatre Project.
The book breaks no new ground, and 20 years after the musical’s debut the story is in serious danger of becoming diminished by becoming a tale too oft-told, but Intrabartolo and Hartmere have definitely crafted an interesting and quite listenable (is that a word?) theatre piece.
…it is definitely an entertaining evening of revelations and in-your-face talent within the intimate confines of Theatre Project.
The story’s central characters are Peter and Jason, the star-crossed (what the hell does that mean, anyway?) lovers at St. Cecelia’s Boarding School. Peter is ready to come out to the world, beginning with his mother. Jason is the school jock and so far in the closet that he can’t see daylight. Jason’s twin sister, Nadia, self-described as “plain” and “fat assed,” also attends the school. Sister Chantelle runs the school’s drama program and is mounting a production of “Romeo and Juliet,” which they all audition for. Jason the Jock is cast as Romeo, surprising everyone. Meanwhile, the school’s obligatory mean girl, Ivy, has set her sights on Jason, much to Jason’s confusion since he’s hip-deep in a relationship with Peter. Ivy’s wannabe paramour, Matt, finds out about the secret lovers, someone gets pregnant, and well, things kinda go downhill from there. I told you it’s not a feelgood musical. But that’s not the point. The point is –
Director/Choreographer Sean Elias has done his usual excellent job guiding the company of 14 through the action. The pace quick-stepped through two acts and left no emotion unexplored. Keeping much of the action dead center downstage kept the focus localized, and the utilization of the second level on the industrial metal high tech scaffolding added a nice touch. Elias is what I like to call a stealth choreographer because it’s all arms and placement of the actors and dances with no actual dance steps. And it serves the music quite nicely. His instincts for fitting movement to music are always dedicated and sure. He’s also extremely adept at putting together casts and crews to realize his artistic visions to great success. Beginning with the excellent Musical Direction by Charles Johnson, responsible for the group numbers and solos, all of which are well-rehearsed and performed at a professional level.
Jericho Stage’s bi-level setworks are innovative and work quite well for the piece. Thomas Gardner’s lighting is as inventive and clever as any I’ve seen locally, though I do wish I had been able to see the actor’s facial expressions a bit more clearly at times. Sam Lee’s sound design needs a little work, but hopefully, the opening night bugs will be ironed out soon, because when it all worked well it worked great. April Forrer’s costumes were appropriate for the boarding school setting, with just the right degree of variation to keep the red plaid theme from becoming too monotonous.
The chorus does a terrific job backing up the principals while playing a number of supporting roles. They revolve around the small stage, taking great pains to move in synch and never upstage action, no mean feat given the space limitations of the theatre.
There were no weak performances – at all. I’d have to say that Brian Dauglash is a scene stealer in the making and the standout member of the ensemble. Rebecca Dreyfuss as Peter’s mother is perfectly cast, heartbreakingly obtuse while her son is trying to come out to her during the song See Me. Jonas David Grey makes the most of a one-dimensional role as the priest with a sturdy baritone and a commanding presence singing Cross. And Nikolai Granados as Matt handles the part with just the right amount of jock-ish bravado.
Danielle Harrow once again is tearing up an area stage, reminding us why she is one of the best in the local business with her portrayal of Sister Chantelle. Her brash, take-no-prisoners approach to the role culminates in the toe-tapping number God Don’t Make No Trash and when she hugs Peter she made everyone in the theatre either glad we had, or wish we had, somebody just like her in our lives.
Catelynn Brown does a great job as Ivy, the pretty girl everyone loves to hate. When she sings All Grown Up, it really is a window into her character that she is skillful enough as an actress to allow the audience to see beyond the superficial. Aileen Mitchener as Nadia is a surly delight and provides some of the few moments of humor. Plain Jane Fat A*s is a lament that will be instantly relatable to anyone who was not the pretty, popular kid in school. Mitchener breaks your heart then dares you to cry.
Benjamin Eisenhour’s Jason, speaking of heart breakers, is as mixed up and conflicted on the outside as any kid, but what makes this performance so compelling is, early on, we figure out what he really already knows – that he is gay and in love with Peter, and watching him deal so badly with the revelation will resonate with every kid who came out, and even more so with those who wanted to and didn’t. Eisenhour is an excellent actor with a voice to match, so gay or straight, his is a performance imminently watchable. When he sings Ever After with Peter, he’s outstanding.
Brett Klock as Peter is so darn cute you just want to give him a hug and tell him, ‘that’s all right, sweetie, everything will work out.’ Watching Klock navigate his emotional roller coaster with the exuberance of a labradoodle puppy one minute and the broken-hearted lover sure he is unlovable the next is worth the ticket ten times over. His vocals are every bit a match for his co-star Eisenhour’s, and their chemistry is palpable. Klock is as slight as Eisnehour is well built but they stand artistically shoulder to shoulder.
It is a sad reflection on our progress as humans that kids keep finding themselves in situations like these two do, but there it is. So let’s not forget them. Let’s support them by listening to their songs with our hearts. See “Bare,” and let it remind you that kids like Jason and Peter deserve to be heard.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
“Bare” plays through December 15, 2019, at Iron Crow Theatre at the Baltimore Theatre Project—45 West Preston Street in Baltimore, MD. Tickets can be purchased online.