'Bare: A Pop Opera' Addresses Coming-of-Age with Poise and Purpose
Plaid skirts and polo shirts line rows of church pews during a Mass at St. Cecelia’s Boarding School. As you might expect, the students are dozing off. One among them, a high school senior struggling with his sexuality, is having a vivid nightmare where his teachers, his classmates and his god condemn him for his sins. This is the opening scene of Bare: A Pop Opera, presented by Outskirts Theatre Company.
The story follows a group of high school seniors through issues of self-image, unrequited love, the pressure of parental expectations, faith and sexuality. As both the director and the male lead, Ryan Albrechtson gives a compelling performance as Peter, a gay boy who isn’t sure how to reconcile his sexuality with his faith or with his mother. He and a popular boy named Jason, played by Clayton Irwin, fall in love and begin a relationship but disagree on whether to go public with the affair. Add to these personal struggles a student production of Romeo and Juliet, the original tale of forbidden love, and the story comes full circle.
Albrechtson and Irwin’s performances are brilliant and emotional, but they don’t stand alone. The entire cast delivered remarkable performances, chief among them though, was Francesca Steitz in the role of Jason’s sister, Nadia. Nadia struggles with her body image as well as being Jason’s overshadowed sister. I imagine that voices like Stetiz’s are why people go to the theater in the first place. She could have sung about calculus, and it would not have been any less intoxicating.
The show cuts seamlessly between witty banter and poignant inner monologues, and each character is allowed a chance to feel conflict and embrace struggle. In a lot of ways, Bare captures perfectly what it felt like to be a high schooler: confused, lonely, anxious and alive. But in addition to all of that, it adds the two largely forgotten elements of faith and sexuality.
Just like high school, this show is goofy, fun, intimate and emotional.
Bare runs through July 9 at Tenth Street Theatre, 628 N. 10th St. For tickets, visit outskirtstheatre.org.