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‘bare: a pop opera” bares its soul at Diversionary Theatre

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"bare" "a pop opera

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San Diego, CA—“Coming out” was and still is a traumatic experience for any gay person. Years ago, it was almost impossible for a young, or older person to ‘Out’ him or herself. Between the church, parents and or relatives, it was almost like placing the mark of Cain on your head. Now days, with all the attention paid to equal rights and equal opportunities it might appear, on the surface, to be a bit easier. And let’s face it some individuals have the fortitude, once admitting it to themselves, to through break that wall and admit it to the world, but not all.

“bare; a pop opera” by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo (Book), Damon Intrabartolo (Music) and Jon Hartmere (Lyrics) is a now happening at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights through Aug. 3rd. It’s the eternal battle of not so much the sexes, but the church and its stand on homosexuality.

Don’t be put off by the words POP or OPERA. The tone feels and looks more like rock musical as the story zero’s in on two gay students struggling with their sexuality. While it’s mostly sung with little dialogue, the story will hurt your heart on some level, bring tears to your eyes, and fill your heart with gratitude on another.

“bare”, making its San Diego premiere, takes place at St. Cecilia’s Boarding School, a Catholic run High School where rules rule and anyone different better watch his or her back. Our story follows fellow roommates Peter and Jason (Dylan Mulvaney and Charlie Gange) and their struggles to keep treading water in a hostile environment with all eyes focused on them.

Peter is more open with his feelings yet still gets paralyzed when he wants to come ‘out’ to his mother (Rae K. Hendersen), while Jason is afraid of his parents and in particular, his father. On the other hand, he does everything to be in with the crows of students rather than be with Peter alone. Peter on the other hand, grows more frustrated with Jason the more Jason pushes him away in public.

Nadia (Samantha Vesco) is Jason’s twin with a whole other set of problems of her own; she is big, ungainly and passed over on all fronts, but more sympathetic, real and understanding than anyone in her class. Hers is one of the most developed characters in the play and Ms. Vasco is excellent in the role especially when she sings the soulful “A Quiet Night at Home”…(slim down dear, things will change for after all you’ve got such a pretty face”) OMG, not that again!

The Diversionary stage is filled to capacity with an assortment of stock students types (about thirteen not including the Priest, Charles W. Patmont, Jr, and Kiani Nelson as Sister Chantelle) coming and going, offering opinions and acting like jerks, being nerdy, having fun, being studious, insecure, naïve and acting like jocks. All can be seen at different intervals, singing as chorus and backup but it’s Matt (Mitchell Connelly), Jason’s rival who finds out the truth about Jason and Peter without them even noticing. That will prove to be a big omission later on in the story. (“Best Kept Secret”)

In the background, the senior class is preparing for it’s final project of the year, a production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo And Juliet”. Jason has been cast in the role of Romeo; he is the golden child of St. Cecilia’s. His Juliet, Ivy (Katie Sapper) has a real big girls crush on him, coaxing him to do the unthinkable. But wanting it all and to be able to assure himself to be just one of the guys, will prove to be a fatal mistake on Jason’s part. (“One”)

Two characters, on opposite ends of the spectrum, the Priest who follows church doctrine and ignores Jason’s cry for help (Cross”…pray for courage) and SR. Chantelle (“God Don’t Make No Trash”) who props Peter up by giving him the courage and understanding to follow his passions, deal difficult blows to the boys in very different ways; ways that play an enormous part on the outcome of their relationship and at plays end.

That this small theatre company with Noah Longton directing, Michael Mizerany choreographing especially on Diversionary’s smallish stage, and Tony Houck directing the musical aspects showcasing himself and three talented musicians, Kevin Jones, Issac Crow and Charlie Weller and a cast of about fifteen that impresses giving it heart, is no small fete. The musicians are off to the side high atop a platform, bringing them as close to the stage as possible. They are terrific.

Michael Von Hoffman’s set is versatile enough with sliding panels, benches and platforms, stained glass windows and even a bed that pulls out just far enough for Jason and Ivy to ‘do their thing’ is another plus for the technical staff. Peter Herman’s costumes sporting the Catholic School plaid skirts and blouses for the gals and ties, blue shirts and pants for the guys’ look authentic to me.

Dylan Mulvaney is a standout as Peter. His is an absolutely sincere and convincing portrayal a young man in love, confused and anxious. Young Mulvaney is making his Diversionary debut and hopefully will be back. For those interested he was in the Cygnet production of “Spring Awakening” just recently. Charlie Gange is equally as impressive, handsome looking all around jock, as the repressed Jason. Gabi Leibowitz’s Diane has a standout voice and topping the list, of course, is Kiani Nelson’s portrayal of Sister Chantelle. Whenever she is on stage she brings a bigger than life presence with her.

Dealing with homosexuality and the Catholic Church is an enormous task. “bare” just scratches the surface. With a little more character development and fewer songs (there are about fifteen in each act), the creators of “bare” would be able to shorten the length of the play, which is about fifteen or so minutes too long and they would also be able to dig a little deeper into the Peter and Jason story.

Don't give up on them baby, they've come a long way.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Aug. 3rd

Organization: Diversionary Theatre

Phone: 619-220-6830

Production Type: Rock Opera

Where: 4545 Park Blvd. San Diego, CA 92116

Ticket Prices: $27.00-$55.00

Web: diversionary.org

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