Monday, May 21, 2012

735. Pandora Productions's Bare - a review

One line of Pandora Productions's mission is to "ignite and celebrate the unfailing hope and triumph of the human spirit."  That it does.

Tonight my friend Michael and I attended the closing performance of the rock-opera Bare, staged in the Bingham Theatre at Actors Theatre of Louisville on West Main Street.  The show's run began May 10th.  It was first performed at the Hudson Mainstage Theater in Hollywood, California on October 14, 2000.  Pandora's Producing Artistic Director, Michael Drury, brought the production to Louisville under the sponsorship of CaolSpa Rejuventation Center and Calobrace Plastic Surgery Center, and overall sponsorship from Michael Taggart Photography.

Let me get down some thoughts before I forget them, something which happens much more often that I usually admit.

First, I've never been to a Pandora play where a few tears were not shed.  This one was no exception.

Second, this was a musical and there were more than a few really great performances, all accompanied by a really great set of musicians.  (I will be adding more about the musicians later - when I get the info).

Third, an ensemble cast appeals to me, where several cast members have several important performances simultaneously.  You see the "simul" in simultaneously and the "sembl" in ensemble are etymological cousins meaning "together."  An ensemble cast acts several differing parts together.  Okay, I'm getting too technical.  Just let me say, I was in a high school play performed by an ensemble cast - a play which involved a group of high school seniors trying to find their place in the world.  That play was "Here and Now."  This play had some borrowings from that one.

Fourth, as a Shakespeare aficionado, I enjoyed the parallels between this play and the play within the play, Romeo and Juliet, from star-crossed lovers to the deaths of best friends at a young age.  It is a wonderful technique and the play made full use of the inventory.

Finally, poignantly, one scene in particular reminded me of my friend Rob and his single alliance with a particular young lady which led to her pregnancy, with the child born of that alliance delivered one week to the day after Rob's untimely death. 

I think I've covered the outline.  Let me go into a little detail.  The play concerns seniors at a Catholic boarding school in their final days as students together.  Keeping straight - no pun intended - who was in love with whom required a short-form score card, but once you understood, it all made sense.

There was the star, Peter - who in one reversal of roles, denies Christ, in the person of the priest/headmaster, instead of the other way around as presented in the Gospels concerning Jesus's last days before the Crucifixion.  Peter was played by Robbie Lewis in his fifth Pandora performance.  Robbie sings throughout the play and his singing ability is first-rate, top-shelf.  I told him as much in the rope-line following the performance.

Peter's love interest in the play is Jason, played by Jason Button, who is torn between feelings for Peter as well as another student, a female.  I feel bad here, because I am not sure who the woman was in that role.  I believe her to be Katie Nuss, but I could be wrong - it could have been Valerie Hopkins.  Again, my apologies.  Whichever it was, she was quite a singer.  In the play, while being chased by another boy, Matt, she was betrayed by Jason, but not before he left her pregnant with his child.  Jason loses his life to a drug overdose toward the very end of the play, leaving the cast mournful on their graduation day.  How many of us went through high school only to lose a friend to drugs, alcohol, or a car wreck on prom night?

Again, the female love interest (who I can't identify) had another would-be suitor in Matt, protrayed by Amos Dreisbach, who is a Theater Arts senior at the University of Louisville.  Amos is great in the role of the unrequited lover.  Amos, too, has a suitor in whom he has no interest (if I followed the story line correctly).  That was Nadia, played by Kate Holland.  Kate is a U of L graduate in Theater Arts.  She plays a forlorn and overweight girl who feels rejection at every turn.  Every one of these turns is played out in some stunning singing performances by Kate, the best of the cast.

I've covered the main "relationship" roles and their intracacies, but there were others in the play worth mentioning.  The play's "badboy" is Lucas, played by Neill Robertson.  One of my seven faithful readers may recall that I've previously identified Neill as the best "Jack Worthing" I've ever seen performed.  In this role, rather than the dapper and meticulous "Uncle Jack" Neill is a ne'er-do-well, a goth perhaps, and the local provider of drugs and alcohol, but one who is often seen in the play as off to the side and by himself.  In his featured role, he does a fantastic rap number from atop a picnic table, launching himself at the end into the stage below.  It was very good.

Two other women are important in the play, that of Peter's mother Claire - as a note, the older woman in my high school play "Here and Now" was Claire - in this play emphatically performed by Susan Lynch, although while performed emphatically, the role itself was a good definition of a lack of empathy.  Susan's appearance from a balcony off stage added to the Juliet leit-motif of the the play.  Finally, and importantly, there was the performance of Chantelle and Mary - yes, that Mary, Jesus's mother.  In one scene, Peter reports to Jason of a dream in which Mary, the ever-virgin mother of God, appears as a full-bodied black woman in a playboy bunny outfit of sorts accompanied by similarly attired angels-in-waiting.  Mary's message is simple - God loves you as you are.  In other words, also heard in the play, "God don't make no junk."  The Mary character is supremely played by Tymika Prince in her debut performance with Pandora.  Appropriately, Tymika dedicated this performance to her own mother.  A note here - as a Catholic kid (although I wasn't officially one until I was 18 and gave up that role at the age of 49), I have a strong love of and affection for Mary.  Mary is represented in every good woman, indeed in every woman and Tymika made a great representation of her tonight.  That may be hard for some to accept, but in the end, every boy loves his mom, and the one mom we all share is Mary, the mother of Jesus.  She is Everywoman.

I've overlooked a few characters - the priest and a few other kids in the school.  They had their parts and were well-performed.  Of particular, and perhaps where I should have began this review, is at the beginning.  The play begins during a mass for the Feast of the Epiphany.  The whole play is epiphanical in its message.  Beginning at Epiphany was a great foreshadowing, another leit-motif.

In closing, let me say a word about the closing.  It happened before I knew it had happened.  The entire story had, indeed, been told by that point - the epiphany revealed and experienced.  I just didn't know it was going to happen and be over with.  That, however, is what happens once an epiphany is made.  More often that not, the build-up to such a moment is far greater than whatever happens once the event has occurred.  Post-event is truly anti-climatic.  Life gets easier.

I had a really good time with this play - the performances mixed but mostly above average with a few of the singers, as noted, par excellence.  Congratulations to Mr. Drury and the cast and staff of Pandora Productions.  

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The Archives at Milepost 606


Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Never married, liberal Democrat, born in 1960, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.