By Elana Spivack
Andrew Perricone ’17 and Eddie Baxter ’15, their hands clasped, stood facing each other on a sparsely set stage under stark overhead lights, looking tenderly at each other. Sniffles and sighs emanated from the audience. If Director Christine Prevas’s ’15 goal was to pierce the spectator’s heart with a story more bitter than sweet, she triumphed.
Brave Potato’s production of bare: a pop opera, which opened last Thursday, Oct. 30, took the Black Box Theater by storm over its three-day run. Written by Jon Hartmere Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo, with direction by Prevas and musical direction by Julia Morris ’15, the opera follows the lives of Peter (Perricone) and Jason (Baxter), students at a Catholic boarding school who struggle to maintain their clandestine romance amid mounting pressure from parents, peers and priests. With prominent musical numbers that question and defy conventions of religion, body image, sexuality and more, this well-executed show flaunted the values of Kenyon students, preaching acceptance and love.
Perricone, the doe-eyed sweetheart of the couple, and Baxter, the suave, but confused lover boy, performed well. Each actor by himself hit the notes and exuded emotion, but duets brought out the best in them both as they entranced the audience with their excellent stage chemistry. In tender ballads, Perricone often worried his hands and craned his neck as his default expression of anguish, and though the songs fit his gentle tenor voice, he occasionally stalled in static gloom. Volatile Jason jumped through extreme emotions, allowing Baxter to display potent anger, fear, and frustration. At his most tragic, however, he tugged at the audience’s heartstrings. Avoiding cloying cliché, he swept through his downfall.
Leading lady Morgan Harden ’17, as promiscuous but sensitive Ivy, artfully switched through the many modes of her character. She blended in the background and was less prominent, even forgettable, through the first act. By the show’s end, once she exhibited some more potent emotions, she fought her way to the forefront.
Though Perricone and Baxter starred, a powerful ensemble backed them up. Several other complicated backstories, including drug use and teen pregnancy, roiled behind the tension of Peter and Jason’s relationship. During large group numbers, each actor performed with conviction and sharpness that carried throughout the show. Though weighty topics carried the show, it contained lighthearted moments, from a rave to a dream-sequence song featuring a feisty incarnation of the Virgin Mary (Jasmine Manuel ’17).
Zoe Case ’18, as Jason’s sister Nadia, ostracized for being overweight, contributed to the levity with her sardonic humor, as well as her brassy voice and stage presence. She fluidly moved between mordant and melancholy. In one number, “Plain Jane Fat Ass,” she scathingly addressed the criticism she has received all her life, operating with perfect comedic timing; soon after, in “A Quiet Night at Home,” she revealed her vulnerable side, working through different shades of insecurity.
Manuel, another sparkling force in the ensemble, played Sister Chantelle, a piquant nun who helps Peter come to terms with his sexuality. Though the “sassy black woman” has become a well-known pop culture trope, Manuel made Sister Chantelle a substantial, idiosyncratic character rather than a caricature. Though she had considerably less stage time than much of the ensemble, she made her moments, quiet or brash, shine. Although her lovely, fiery voice was full of energy, her more subdued exterior lacked the heartiness of her singing.
The show also largely owed its success to Prevas’ careful direction. No moment was slack or without tension. From solos to large group numbers, moments were bustling with purpose without being needlessly busy. The show’s delightfulness also manifested in the more subtle details and choices, like a parade of hungover boys and girls marching along, each one handling their own small mess, hastily buttoning a blouse or applying eye drops.
However, errors revealed themselves in the show’s little moments. Lyrics uttered too quickly or too inarticulately slid past, leaving out crucial jokes or plot points. One number, “Wonderland,” was a tongue-twisting rap that, despite its many engaging moments, was nearly incomprehensible.
Likewise, some of Manuel’s numbers also lacked volume and articulation to match her energy.
On the whole, the show was well-received both for the high-caliber performance and the values it promoted. Its combination of wit and tragedy, swirling with potent emotions, made for an excellent, powerful show.