Earlier this year, Stafford Arima directed a retooled revival of the notorious Carrie, and helped rescue that show from the taunts it has endured. Now he tries to apply a similar cure to another intense musical about high-school bullying: Jon Hartmere Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo’s Bare, which played New York in 2004. The show’s new incarnation is very different from the first; it features dialogue as well as multiple new songs (with music by Lynne Shankel), a changed set of characters and an updated sense of how antigay sentiment plays out today. Like the original, this Bare is flush with feeling and nerve. Yet the faults that led it astray in 2004 remain, perhaps incorrigibly.
Taylor Trensch gives a beautifully funny, brave and honest performance as Peter, a gay teen at a Catholic boarding school; Jason Hite plays Jason, the handsome jock with whom he starts a star-crossed love affair. Among those caught in the tangle are Jason’s acerbic, drug-peddling sister, Nadia (the excellent Barrett Wilbert Weed); her tarnished roommate, Ivy (Elizabeth Judd); and Ivy’s insecure boyfriend, Matt (Gerard Canonico). The ensemble acting and singing are strong, and despite some tonal missteps, Bare’s first half taps into the emotional space of teenagers who see their dramas as tragedies. (Donyale Werle’s picture-perfect set suggests a world of bright self-presentation and half-hidden emotion.) But then the piece veers into hectoring melodrama that the writing isn’t strong enough to support; in one tortured, trite ballad after another, the show chugs toward a conclusion that is at once inevitable and forced. Spring Awakening took on a very similar story effectively. The reborn Bare, by contrast, is an unfortunate reminder that not all things get better.—Adam Feldman
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