Iron Crow Theatre’s production of Bare couldn’t be more timely. With music by the late Damon Intrabartolo, lyrics by Jon Hartmere and a book which was a combined effort of the two; this musical tackles the pitfalls of being a closeted gay kid in a Catholic school. Little has changed for LGBTQ people in Christian environments since the original musical was first produced in L.A. almost 20 years ago. With the leadership of the Catholic Church being plunged into political turmoil and backbiting as a result of divisions over recent scandals; gay students, teachers and parishioners have been hit particularly hard this past year. Bare itself has a somewhat muddled history. Originally called Bare: A Pop Opera, the musical underwent several revisions before premiering in a reworked version Off-Broadway in 2012. Iron Crow Theatre’s production is not this revised version, but the original Pop Opera incarnation that sticks closer to Intrabartolo’s and Hartmere’s vision.
Directed by Sean Elias, Bare stars Brett Klock as the lovelorn Peter. Peter’s desire to share his relationship with the super popular and super closeted Jason (Benjamin Eisenhour) is the catalyst for much of the drama in this musical. To say how this situation resolves itself would be to spoil the ending, but it is sufficient to note that a heavy-handed Chekhov’s Gun in the first number hints at the resolution. When you know the characters are hurtling towards a messy conclusion, it enhances the emotional impact of songs like “Role of a Lifetime.” Klock excels in communicating his conflicted feelings about hiding his relationship in “See Me,” where Peter attempts to come out via phone to his mother, Claire (Rebecca Dreyfuss).
Many of the solo numbers in this production, such as “All Grown Up,” where Ivy (Catelynn Brown) laments her decision to get physically intimate with closeted Jason, tend to be the best performances. Danielle Harrow easily turns in a stand-out role as the beleaguered but quick-witted Sister Chantelle. “God Don’t Make No Trash” is a strong centerpiece for the moral arguments made by this musical. Harrow takes it to the next level.
Eisenhour really nails Jason’s character in “Cross.” This number shows the conflicted teen confronting the Priest (Jonas David Grey) during a confession. Catholic teaching holds that same-sex sexual orientation isn’t sinful, while same-sex sexual acts are. Eisenhour draws on the conflicting emotions around this muddy set of guidelines as he forces a resolution out of the frustrated priest.
Aileen Mitchener is a clever Nadia who works some levity into the darkness during “Spring.” Mitchener also provides many of the humorous outtakes throughout the script, striking a good balance between seriousness and irreverence. Nikolai Granados as Matt also makes his mark in “Are You There?” as he questions God’s presence along with Peter in a low moment.
The set design—provided by Jericho Stage, Inc.—was perfect, even if the some of the technical work was restrained by space limitations. A large, industrial cross hangs over the stage. Made of metal, it seems like it may fall and crush the people beneath it—a perfect metaphor for what is communicated by this musical, as religion so often occurs in the lives of LGBTQ people as a threat to their well being and livelihood.
The space at the Baltimore Theatre Project provides several challenges with regards to lighting and tech. Additionally, the acoustics of the background music are flat without live musicians. Sean Elias’ choreography and blocking during ensemble numbers was a bit stilted at times due to these limitations. I think this production would have been much better served had it been mounted in a different venue that was friendlier to the needs of musicals. Regardless, the heart of this production and the strong character-focused numbers still provide plenty to enjoy.
With catchy songs and a relevant story line, Iron Crow Theatre’s production of Bare is a solid choice for those interested in the subject matter or for fans of niche musicals. After 20 years and progress in the broader culture, you’d think some of the issues Bare tackles would have been resolved. It seems like we are just beginning to understand the complicated relationship between Catholic teaching and queer experiences. Much like the musical, real life provides little glimpses of hope—see America Magazine’s thorough new podcast about the Catholic response to the AIDS crisis and affirming communities for gay Catholics like Vine & Fig. Navigating the maze of faith as an LGBTQ individual is difficult. Iron Crow’s Bare provides audiences with a critical piece of art produced in the history of this movement, as well as material to spark reflection on how best to move forward.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including 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.