You know the lost feeling you get when it’s time to clean out the garage or that one junk room in your house? You stand back from afar, gazing into the maelstrom, and wonder what part of the tangled madness to start with.
Bare: A pop opera, currently giving out free samples of angst at Ohlook Performing Arts Center in Grapevine, evokes the same feelings.
The musical follows the story of Peter (Michael McCray) and Jason (John Davenport), two closeted homosexual boys at a Catholic boarding school. As the wrestle with the conflict between faith and emotions, the audience is introduced to a smattering of other angsty teen deficiencies like partying, drug and alcohol abuse, image and esteem issues and pregnancy. It’s like Rent set in a Catholic School written by the creative team of the Jonas Brothers and My Chemical Romance. In other words, teenagers will love it. Everyone else will scratch their heads and wonder how the show ever got produced in the first place.
Running three hours and featuring a dizzying 36 musical numbers, authors Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo took what was already an R-rated version of a bad Disney Channel movie and made it soul-crushing.
Citing the Les Miserables-like length of the show, a full synopsis would put War and Peace to shame. Suffice it to say, Peter and Jason, played passionately by McCray and Davenport, quite understandably struggle to reconcile their feelings in the suffocating world of Catholicism with a half-hearted nod to Shakespeare as the students, as if they were the Peanuts gang, are all in the school production of Romeo and Juliet.
The show hemorrhages angst as the young cast takes Hartmere and Intrabartolo’s set up and runs with it. To a younger person, it might seem poignant, but any useful message is lost in the complete lack of any sort of deeper purpose and the horrifyingly bleak ending.
To top it off, Ohlook is in a small building without sound amplification. And though there’s nothing at all wrong with making home in a small space, in this case the instruments routinely drowned out the words of the singers, making the lyrics muffled and incomprehensible.
Of course, sometimes not being able to hear the singers was preferable. Most of the cast sounded like they took their singing cues from Miley Cyrus, but didn’t have the pipes to back it up.
The cast, which it can be surmised is likely made up of a lot of current and former Ohlook students, handled the extreme melodrama fine, but failed to deliver any nuance to the characters and generally disappointed musically.
However, much of the blame is to be laid on the show itself. How it continues to get produced is flabbergasting. It’s a blatant rip off of the Rent formula, only not good and with an utterly depressing ending.
Seriously, the facile attempt at copying the hopeful ending of Rent falls completely flat and the audience is left to contemplate dealing themselves—spoiler alert—the same fate as one of the main characters.
And just when you’re expecting complimentary razor blades as you leave the theater, Ohlook reminds you the evening isn’t over.
Enter the late night double feature of Charles Busch's Lesbian Vampires of Sodom and Psycho Beach Party.
Knowing the inclination towards bodily harm Bare would in induce in the audience, Ohlook decided to follow it up with parodies of cheesy B movies of the past.
If the titles weren’t self-explanatory, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom is about—gasp—vampire lesbians (played by Lily Vaughn and Samantha Padilla) from Sodom, or Sodom and Gomorrah fame. As their condition curses them to live forever, they inevitably run into each other at different points through history, typically in some sort of showbiz situation. There isn’t much plot beyond that and one would assume the title was what appealed to Ohlook more than the actual story. But, it’s short, so at least it followed one rule of comedy. Make your jokes and get out, especially in the absence of plot.
Psycho Beach Party contained a little bit more of a coherent plot, and thus ran nearly an hour and a half non-stop.
The action centers around Chicklet (William Marshall Warren), a girl suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder whose other selves may or may not be violent.
Warren was the best part of the evening. His performance as Chicklet was classic camp to a tee and very convincing, balancing commitment to character with a knowing cheekiness.
In fact, had it been a little shorter, Beach Party would have been very good. As it stands, it was mildly entertaining and a little lengthy for a spoof.
Ultimately, both shows are performed with tongue painfully planted in cheek as the cast constantly giggles their way through sexually charged jokes and broad physical humor.
It’s fun enough and definitely a welcome relief after the traumatizing Bare, but it all came off as one big "in" joke between the cast and the audience, which was primarily made up of cast members from Bare, family and friends.
The average attendee will get some chuckles out of it, but that’s about it.
If you choose to attend all three shows, prepare for a five hour night at the theater, of which you’ll spend the first half fighting the lingering urge to cut yourself and the second wondering what the point is.
So yeah, it kind of is like being a confused teenager.
◊ bare is performed at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays; Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Psycho Beach Party are 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays