Bare with Outskirts
Outskirts Theatre Company takes the stage of the Tenth Street Theatre this month with a production of the early 2000's coming-of-age drama Bare: A Pop Opera. A very nuanced Ryan Albrechtson stars as Peter--a Catholic high school kid dealing with his popular boyfriend's aggressive reluctance to be open about their relationship.
The stage is nearly empty. A few wooden boxes have been arranged into a cross with lighting surrounding it. There were a few benches that serve as church pews. In his role as director Ryan Albrechtson locks in the overall feeling of a Catholic school in respectably modulated crowd scenes. Given that it's really the only thing to latch onto as far as the atmosphere, it does a really good job of doing so simply with Catholic school uniforms and a small cast in a small space.
The intimacy of the Tenth Street Theatre amplifies the emotional intensity of scenes with one or two characters present. Larger scenes with bigger songs tend to wash out a bit as the live piano overpowers lyrics. Thankfully, though most of the action of the play is delicately rendered in solitary moments. Nearly every character in the cast is desperately searching for some kind of understanding, so even moments shared between two or three characters are largely inner journeys for everyone involved.
There are some really moving performances in and within all of this soul-searching. In addition to a very heartfelt Albrechtson, there are a few moments of silent anguish sharply captured by Clayton Irwin in the role of the popular upper-class kid named Jason who would stand to lose everything if it came to light that he was gay. Ava Bush plays a very popular girl who is desperately looking for some form of emotional stability. Bush is as thoughtful and empathetically textured in her silences as she is in song. Francesca Steitz delivers similarly sophisticated characterization to the production in the role of Nadia, the overlooked sister of Jason. There are some really moving moments of resigned desperation to which Steitz lends charisma and dignity.
There is a tight-knit feel about the cast that gives substantial emotional words to a tragically sophisticated story that manages to address quite a few different issues in a relatively brief amount of time onstage. It may be roughly 2 1/2 hours from start to finish but the depth of what is being addressed here in matters of religion, sexuality, individuality and social oppression feel much more like a very concise senior year of high school. That Outskirts Theatre is able to deliver on much of them at this complexity is quite an accomplishment.
Outskirts Theatre Company’s production of Bare: A Pop Opera runs through Jul. 9 at the Tenth Street Theatre on 628 N. 10th St. For ticket reservations and more, visit Ouskirts online.