November 8, 2012

Starry, Starry Night at Risley

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Walking home after the opening showing of bare: A Pop Opera, I exclaimed to myself, “Wow, I’m not in high school anymore!” As the first play I’ve seen in college, bare far exceeded my expectations. The play questions identity and acceptance, and provokes answers from actors and audience alike. Its mature content warning indicates the raw, provocative and authentically offensive elements of the production. The cast — comprising students from Cornell University, Ithaca College and the local community — had very talented singers but even more amazing actors. Throughout the play, their voices electrified Risley Theatre and their acting entranced many in the audience. In a recent interview with The Sun, Director Spencer Whale ’14 hinted at many themes of the play and the talent of the cast. My high expectations were met as I left Risley that night, impressed by the quality of both the cast and the production.

bare, a modern rendition of Romeo and Juliet, tells the story of a closeted gay couple, Jason and Peter, who go to St. Cecilia’s High School. They find it hard to reconcile their sexual orientation with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Additionally, while Peter intends to publicize the relationship out of resentment for their secrecy, Jason, valedictorian and basketball star, finds it harder to come out. He ends up sleeping with the school slut, Ivy. Meanwhile, Jason’s sister, Nadia, deals with self-consciousness due to her weight, and class salutatorian, Matt, experiences Ivy’s feelings of rejection and inferiority. Although Jason and Peter’s relationship takes center stage, the other characters’ struggles are no less important.

Music permeates the play. Dan Middleditch (Jason) and Jeremy Ehlinger (Peter) were both exceptional in their numbers. Whale referred to Ehlinger as the “star of the play” and it came as no surprise as Ehlinger, with startling intensity, communicated his rejection by his family, his church, his classmates and, even at times, his boyfriend. The songs transfixed the audience and led us to think about closeted teens in our community and elsewhere. At certain times, I felt powerless and lost, a testament to the power of Peter’s numbers. The supporting cast members performed just as well and nailed the personalities they portrayed. Sister Chantelle not only provided comedic relief but also demonstrated the struggles faced by adults associated most closely with the church. Each difficult note she hit in songs such as “God Don’t Make No Trash” and “911! Emergency!” justified the audience’s numerous thunderous applauses. The rap rendition of “Wonderland” from Lucas, played by Trevor Stankiewicz, provided the audience with something different, yet completely matched his cool, laid-back attire and attitude.

The marvelous acting and vocals of the cast enables the audience to think about the plot in a larger context. At the end of the play, the characters come together as a graduating class to put up a production of Romeo and Juliet. The conclusion suggests that though not everyone’s struggles are the same, no one is alone. bare is a powerful production as it allows the audience to use the plot as a catalyst for conversations about acceptance, sexuality and the demons inside us. The play offers a mature view of obstacles that we all face in high school and, as Whale hopes, provokes us to think about enacting changes on our own and together.

Original Author: Charley Du