Entertainment :: Theatre

Bare

by Steve Weinstein
Contributor
Tuesday Dec 11, 2012
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  (Source:Chad Batka)

I’m getting a little tired of teen angst. The all-too aptly titled "Bare" treads a path made overly familiar from sung-through (more like screamed-through) works like "American Idiot" and "Spring Awakening."

"Bare" has had a suitably checkered history. After over a decade of building a faithful following among sensitive teenage girls and gay men (yeah, I know that’s redundant), it has finally arrived in New York. Unfortunately for its creators, in the meantime, "Glee," the daytime soaps, all those guitar operas and even several NFL players, have made this territory as edgy as an episode of "The Waltons."

Nor does it help that the central figures are a nerd who hides his sensitivity behind sarcastic asides and a jock with a sensitive side. Where have I heard this before? Oh yeah, in last year’s revival of another misbegotten musical, "Carrie," not coincidentally also directed by Stafford Arima.

The show, however, only goes from bard to nurse when we get the subplot, a school production of -- are you ready for this? -- "Romeo and Juliet." The creators might as well have put up a sign in flashing neon lights "WARNING: STAR-CROSS’D LOVERS ALERT." If Obama ever closes Guantanamo Bay, can we please use it for any playwright or book writer who relies on Shakespeare’s words to do the heavy lifting for him?

There are a few plot points that at least turn "Bare" from the cliched to the downright weird. The setting is an upscale Catholic co-ed boarding school where the students spend most of their time swallowing an array of party favors, sleeping around (or at least endlessly fretting about it) and spying on each other. Classroom time is spent earnestly discussing smartphone photos they’ve taken of their favorite subjects, themselves. Take that, St. Thomas Aquinas!

I mean, really, just once, I’d like to hear these characters make like Bogie to Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca": "It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." Outside world? What’s that?

The ultimate failure of nerve or imagination or simple insight, however, is the fact that the nerdy student, who’s so obviously queer he’d might as well be wearing a "I’m one of Gaga’s Little Monsters" T-shirt, isn’t ignored, let alone bullied, by the nasty, brutish jock clique and its obnoxious alpha dog (of course, the hottest man in the cast; go figure).

As the requisite Bad Girl, Barrett Wilbert Weed (how’s that for a preppie name?) does her role better than it deserves. At least the one Asian student is played against type as a ditz.

Consider: This is a Catholic school where stealing each other’s phones and analyzing every photo (I’d rather eat glass) is the main pastime.

Nor does it help that the two leads are nearly charisma-free. There are some real bright spots in the cast, however. I especially liked the requisite Bad Girl, here the drug-dealing outcast sister of the closeted jock.

It’s too bad that such a twist was also done better before, in the great little sleeper film "Saved," where the religion was fundamental Protestantism and the Bad Girl was disabled. Even so, Barrett Wilbert Weed (how’s that for a preppie name?) does her role better than it deserves. At least the one Asian student is played against type as a ditz.

No question, the one standout performance is Missi Pyle, as a sympathetic nun who’s destined to be censured by the Vatican. Even if she hadn’t been handed the plumb dual role of a vision of the Virgin Mary in the show’s one breakout number, the willowy Pyle would still have chewed the scenery.

Had there been any. The production is as under-nourished as the book, music and lyrics. The choreography is second-rate music video fluff, more cheerleader poses than dance. The music isn’t bad, but it isn’t good, either. Try to remember one tune an hour after you leave the theater.

I’m going to have to assume that Elizabeth Ward as the New Girl who may or may not have slept with a teacher in her old school, really didn’t want to blare out every note as though she were late Hildegard Behrens toughing out "Turandot."

Anyway, it’s easy to believe that she could seduce the sensitive jock. She’s so gorgeous she probably could have nailed Liberace and Paul Lynde. I have no doubt that in the sequel she does an about-face and takes the veil. If she can’t have the jock, being a bride of Christ is a great consolation prize.

Like, whatever. This show definitely has developed a cult following, and you may find it does justice to its source material. Or, like me, you may find yourself longing to curl up with a bowl of popcorn and a DVD of the 1968 "Romeo and Juliet." Not only did Franco Zeffirelli get the play, he knew how to make it sexy.

"Bare" enjoys an extended run at New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St. in New York City. For info or tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early ’80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).

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