The lights dim, and the excited audience fills almost every seat in the hall. A hush settles over the crowd as actors make their way onto the dark stage.
The stage lights suddenly flare; the play begins, and the audience is whisked into a heady miasma of romance, drugs, sex and rebellion.
From Nov. 11 to Nov. 14, Drake University Theatre presented “Bare,” directed and choreographed by Karla Kash, assistant professor of theatre. The show was held in the Performing Arts Hall and boasted an overall talented cast of 27 Drake students.
Written by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo, “Bare” debuted in Los Angeles in 2000. The musical follows the tribulations of a group of teens at Catholic boarding school and emphasizes the personal struggle of two homosexual boys amidst conservative social norms.
“Bare” tells a story of forbidden love. But the show also does something else: It addresses the stigma that often surrounds homosexuality, while connecting this stigma to teenage rebellion.
And this message is pressing in light of the recent teenage suicides due to harassment about sexuality.
“Since beginning rehearsals in late September, there have been seven reported deaths of teenagers from suicide–all of whom ended their own lives after enduring harsh bullying,” Kash wrote in the director’s note. “LGBT adolescences rejected by their families for their sexual orientation are nearly more than 10 times more likely to report having attempted suicide.”
The two main characters of “Bare,” Jason and Peter, address this struggle in different ways.
Jason, played by Kent Reynolds, attempts to mask his sexuality. Outwardly, he is the school heartthrob, popular among friends and lands the lead in the school production of “Romeo and Juliet.” But inwardly, he deeply fears the criticism of his absent parents.
Peter, played by Eric Ferring, faces pressure from his mother to be “normal,” in addition to fears of sinning under Catholicism. In his imagination of his mother’s reaction to his sexuality, his mother laments, “I sent him to Catholic boarding school to straighten him out…now all I’ll get are ambiguous Christmas cards from South Beach.”
And not unlike Romeo and Juliet, these two boys become the star-crossed lovers of “Bare.” They become entangled in a web of deceit and betrayal, as they face judgment by their peers, their families and–most threatening–their faith.
In the beginning of the play, Jason and Peter admit they are in love, although Jason is adamant their feelings remain secret. Unbeknownst to the lovers, one of their friends, Matt, played by Matt Haupert, comes across the two in a passionate kiss.
Although Matt tells no one, suspicion begins to grow as Peter demands they open up about their relationship–and about their sexuality. He plans to tell his mother the truth over spring break, and he asks Jason to be there.
Later, a drunk Ivy (Sarah Hoch) comes on to Jason after her birthday party. In an apparent lapse of judgment combined with the desire to fit in, Jason sleeps with Ivy. The curtain closes on the first act with Peter and Matt betrayed, and the four lovers in an unusually tangled love triangle.
Despite the semblance of drama, Act 1 of the show moved slowly, mostly characterized by distracting–albeit energetic–dancing and sarcastic digs at Catholicism.
Although the choreography was well executed, the stomping and jumping moves overcame the vocals. The ensemble caused a similar problem: they over-sang the leads in multiple scenes.
And while Ferring deserves enormous credit for his apt portrayal of Peter–an undoubtedly challenging character to master–his vocals were consistently under pitch during most of Act 1. While he successfully conveyed the struggle Peter experienced through his acting, he was unable to do the same when singing.
Thankfully, Act 2 provided a reprieve from these problems.
There was very little choreography in Act 2, eliminating the noise pollution. The tension between Jason, Peter, Matt and Ivy finally heightened the drama to a captivating level.
Ferring and Reynolds both fell into place as Peter and Jason. Their solos and duets improved immensely. Their relationship grew more palpable and their conflicts more realistic; their internal and external conflicts were more relatable.
Hoch and Emily Draffen, as Ivy and Nadia, were both excellent throughout. Draffen played Jason’s sister and a social outcast. She acted the part perfectly, and her vocal performance was one of the best in the show.
The love-hate relationship between Nadia and Ivy added much-needed comic relief to the show, and Hoch’s clear, beautiful voice gave her portrayal of Ivy an innocence that contrasted her outward promiscuity.
And how did the audience react to this controversial show?
The audience laughed along with the characters, and their reaction was good. They cheered and clapped after solos and ensemble pieces and gave the cast a standing ovation at Saturday’s performance.
And this was the reaction Danielle Dolezal, one of two student assistant directors, expected.
“The songs are catchy, the acting is great and the story material itself is very important for anyone to see, no matter what you believe,” she said. “It shows you things that people might not actually think of, especially in light of the gay suicides that happened recently.”
And “Bare” did just that. The vocal and technical issues were overshadowed by the message the characters presented. The show was poignant yet radical and unabashedly proclaimed to hundreds of audience members that love knows no gender.
Photo courtesy of the Drake Theater Department