By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The issues that can cause so much angst in the high school years are laid bare in the Oakland Center for the Arts’ next theater production.
“Bare,” a pop opera, opens tonight.
Homosexuality, teen pregnancy and promiscuity, eating disorders, suicide, drug abuse, issues with parents — these are all unflinchingly dealt with in the show.
“Bare,” by John Hartmere Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo, premiered in Los Angeles in 2000. The Oakland production, directed by Liz Rubino, will be the Mahoning Valley debut.
The story is set in a co-ed catholic boarding school — the city isn’t named, but it could be in the Midwest — in the present day. The students are under the care of a priest who is emotionally distant and a sister who becomes a mother figure.
Rubino last directed the rock musical “Spring Awakening” at the Oakland, which also deals with teen angst and problems. “[‘Bare’] is similar to ‘Spring Awakening,’ but it’s contemporary,” she said.
Because she is professionally involved in theater as therapy, Rubino was attracted to “Bare” for its ability to teach and its message.
“Drama therapy attracts me,” she said. “It always does. I’m not interested in anything that isn’t psychologically deep.
“‘Bare’ touches on the major questions of Catholicism,” she continued. “Is homosexuality a sin? Are you a sinner for life if you get pregnant [out of wedlock]?”
An underlying theme centers on how open or closed people are to the truth.
“Most of what I’ve done is to focus on how things are kept behind closed doors,” said Rubino. “Secrets are a big part of the show.”
The sparse stage set uses doors to symbolize how open or closed the characters are at any given moment.
“At one point Sister says to Peter [a gay student] ‘to hide from yourself would be the greatest mistake.’ This is a theme of the play, that it’s always OK to be who you are — that you deserve to be seen and heard and understood. The whole show is about love and acceptance.”
Rubino stressed that the play is not anti-Catholic and does not dredge up the priest pedophilia scandal.
“It has balance,” she said. “The kids go to God for their answers.”
One story line has a strong parallel to Rubino’s own life as a young adult. “I came out to a priest, and it was terrifying,” she recalled. “My parents probably hoped he would put the fear of God in me, but he didn’t. He was wonderful and elegant. I was lucky. I was afraid I would be banned from communion, but he said that the Bible is an illustration of how to live, and he helped me not to take it so literally.”
Each of the cast members also felt a strong connection to the play.
“At the auditions, I asked each one why they are interested in the play, and there was a definite connection with each person,” said Rubino. “They identified with a feeling or a character or their struggle. One lead actor recently came to me and said how parallel his character is to his own life.”
Again, Rubino saw it as an example of using theater as a teaching moment.
“Theater can be therapeutic, but if you do the same role your whole life, it’s not,” she said. “There is no growth. You have to move through it [to make progress]. You can’t play the same issue out over and over.”
The Oakland’s production of “Bare” includes musical direction by Cory Davis and choreography by Billie Anzevino.
The cast includes: Kristopher Ray North, Connor Bezeredi, Madison Gulfo, Jaime Kirchhofer, Mazhorell Johnson, Rachel Ruggieri, Jonathon Cain, Victoria Lubonovich, Claire Blackledge, Emily Shipley, Braxton Mendez, Ezekiel Ellis, Ray Wriston, Monique Lopez, Gino Ginnetti and Michaela Ellis.