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'Bare: a Pop Opera' tackles the struggle for acceptance

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

February 19, 2015

 
Matthew Northey makes his directorial debut with an electric production of “Bare: a Pop Opera” at Soulstice Theatre in St. Francis. “Bare” is a relatively new piece, and this is its premiere in Wisconsin. It tackles a topic that heartens some and threatens others, dealing, as it does, with those who struggle to be accepted for their sexual identity when it doesn’t represent “the norm.”  

The story introduces us to a senior class in a Catholic boarding high school.  Drugs, alcohol and sex are grappled with amid the somewhat repressive backdrop of Catholic teachings, represented by the characters of one nun and one priest.  Ironically, the nun is portrayed as being more understanding and less rigid than the priest.  This is refreshing since most nuns are portrayed as mean or silly, which is a disservice to the reality of their diversity.  Mara McGhee was a hoot in her role as Sister Chantelle.  

Her strong delivery of “God Don’t Make No Trash” is a comfort to Peter, the main character who is wrestling with his homosexual identity and all the repercussions he might have to face with his religion, his parents and his peers. Doug Clemons always delivers with an exceptional performance.  

His partner Jason, very movingly portrayed by Shane Skinner, is even more conflicted than Peter.  He tries to deny his nature, so he succumbs to the alluring Ivy, a beautiful girl who is very attracted to him.  Meanwhile this alliance makes Matt very jealous because Ivy has not been open to his advances.  Broken hearts are pretty par for the course in the teenage years, and we certainly see a lot of anguished souls here.  Matt (James Carrigan) and Peter capture their mutual pain in their searing duet, “Are You There?” as they wonder if God is even aware of what they’re going through.

 Another character who grabs our complete attention is Nadia, Peter’s twin sister.  She has weight and jealousy issues, which she addresses in her strongly executed “Plain Jane Fat Ass” and “Spring.” Haley San Filippo is one of the shining stars in a very talented cast.  

A very moving moment is certainly the conversation between Peter and his mother when he tries to tell her that he is gay.  Her evasiveness belies the fact that she is torn between denying or accepting a reality, between her love for her son and her shame and fear of his revelation.  Laura Monagle’s wrenching song,  “Warning,” as she looks back at the signs that she didn’t want to see is very poignantly delivered.  Monagle never disappoints.  

Jacob Sudbrink is the musical director and the conductor of the six-piece orchestra.  He, as always, does a good job. The two-tiered set designed by Benjamin Gray provides easy changes from venue to venue, and the choreography by Chelsea Fredrickson adds to the energy of the production.  

The reality of various sexual orientations continues to be a troubling societal issue, though progress toward greater understanding, tolerance and acceptance is certainly apparent in the past two decades. May enlightenment continue, so that bullying and ostracism will eventually disappear from our midst.

“Bare” runs through March 1 at the Soulstice Theatre at 3770 S. Pennsylvania in St. Francis.  Call 414-481-2800 or visit their website at www.soulsticetheatre.org for times, tickets and directions.  It’s a very worthwhile way to spend a couple hours.