“bare” in review: A critical exploration of queer youth and blatant misogyny

Charlotte Elliott, Campus Life Editor

Filled with Shakespearean fencing, a questionable piñata and the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary, the Nov. 10 opening night of “bare,” written by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo and directed by Alex Higgin-Houser, kept the audience on their toes. 

Our first glimpse of the stage introduced us to one of the most daring set designs I have seen at Whitman. The central exhibit, an antiquated staircase leading to a balcony fit for a medieval castle, towered over a small table holding a single goblet and the Holy Bible. Glaringly red velvet curtains were contrasted with the mute browns that the rest of the set embraced. 

The opening number choir singing kicked off just before the scene was thrown into immediate disarray. The main man Peter, played by sophomore Kellen Flynn, fell into a nightmarish dream where all of his closest friends and family condemned him to hell for being gay. Emerging from this reverie, the audience was then taken on a journey through the lives of the students of St. Cecilia’s Boarding School in the weeks leading up to their graduation.

The main focus of the musical was on the rocky relationship between Peter and Jason, played by sophomore David Kretz. The pair navigated the complexities of being in a homosexual relationship where one member was desperate for the world to understand his true identity and the other feared the repercussions. 

Flynn and Kretz formed the perfect duo to act out emotional scenes between their respective characters. Their passionate clashes throughout the musical build to a breaking point wherein Jason begs Peter to “put away the fairytale; there’s no such thing as heroes that are queer.” As the audience watches on, the pair fall apart, unable to bridge the gap between their differences.

“bare” explores many of the challenges that young people face when growing up. It tracks the unequal judgment women get for having sex, the day-to-day pressure of being accepted by your peers and the dismissal of adults when you simply want them to listen to what you have to say. 

Ivy, played by senior Gillian Mackay Brown, is constantly ridiculed for having sex by people who are supposed to be her friends. She spends the musical chasing after a closeted Jason while remaining oblivious to the desperate advances of introverted Matt, played by first-year Esme Fife-Adams. Ivy is a young girl being a normal teenager, doing normal teenage things, and being villainized for it by hypocritical onlookers. Both Mackay Brown and Fife-Adams give some of the best vocals of the evening with Fife-Adams, new to the Whitman Theater Department, offering a standout first performance.

Equally impressive, and stealing the attention of the audience whenever she was on stage, was sophomore Carmel Stephan, who played Nadia. While Nadia spent much of the evening judging the other characters, Stephan spent most of her time putting on jaw-dropping vocal performances in which she hit high notes that I didn’t even realize were possible. Paired with comical facial expressions and an exquisite sassiness, Nadia became one of the most memorable characters of the show. Stephan is a clear one to watch as she continues her theatrical career.

Behind the scenes, the artistic skills of Whitman students were clearly being used at full throttle. With an engaging set that enhanced the performance of every actor and music that perfectly set the tone at vital moments, the students and staff who have been working tirelessly for months to prepare for this night should be proud of what they have achieved. 

For me, however, the MVP of the night goes to the costume department, directed and designed by Aaron Chvatal. There seemed to be a costume change every five minutes, and not a single one let the team down. A personal favorite has to be tied between the elegant outfits of Monica Harris, who played Sister Chantelle, and the endlessly fun outfits that the students wore to the rave (designed by Chloe Williams).

“bare” was an experience that I would have easily regretted missing. Just as Sister Chantelle does not direct dinner theater, neither does Higgin-Houser. A guest artist at Whitman, Higgen-Houser made no mistakes with the casting, and his skilled directing clearly shone through with a musical that simultaneously had me laughing and crying. “bare” has firmly joined a long tradition of successful Whitman musicals. 

If you are desperate for more action from the Whitman Theater Department, the Studio Series will be returning to Whitman from Dec. 1-3. More information can be found on the ticket website.