Gay and Catholicism tackled in Ateneo Repertory's staging of "Bare"

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How difficult is it to be gay in a Catholic school?

I for one could attest to that as I am practically gay for the 26 years of my existence and I studied in a Catholic institution for 9 years. There was no conflict between me and the school's policy as I was pretty conservative then. There were little rifts between me and some of my boy classmates though but nothing serious. I was in elementary and high school that time so the factors of falling in love, getting into a discreet relationship or into a relationship with a bisexual were never my issues. But what if it did? I explored the possibilities of the situation as me, and my also gay partner, watched Ateneo Blue Repertory's adaptation of the stage play "Bare" in Teatrino- Promenade Greenhills last March 9, 2012

We were excited of course after we were invited by a friend as I know we can relate to the gay plot. "Bare" or sometimes called as "Bare: A Pop Opera"  is a rock musical by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo. The story focuses on, as what I suggested above,  two gay high school students and their struggles at their private, Catholic boarding school. The play is American and it debuted at the Hudson Theater in Los Angeles, California last October 2000. Ateneo Blue Repertory staged it last year and decided to restaged it as the finale of their 20th year. 

One of the many kissing scenes between lead characters Peter and Jason

Ateneo Rep staging a gay play, really? I know you will have the same question after the few descriptions above and I asked that too. But I realized their stand on staging the play as it concluded, could be predictable, on how we should embrace God to help us through our personal troubles including drug addiction, family issues, and identity or sexual crises. 

The story revolved on Peter (Bibo Reyes alternated by Reb Atadero), an altar boy, who has a secret relationship with St. Cecilia's (the name of the boarding school) ever popular heartthrob Jason (Jaime Barcelon). Both are active on school activities and planned to audition for a school play of "Romeo and Juliet". Peter wants to come out and show his love for Jason publicly but Jason, afraid of being condemned, did not agree. Other characters include Ivy (Maronne Cruz), the school's liberated "it"girl who is in love with Jason, and Matt (Franco Chan), another performer of the stage play and has a crush on Ivy. He is the first one to know about the real relationship of Jason and Peter as Peter accidentally told him while they were drank during a house party. 

Panicking on Peter's plan to reveal their relationship, Jason broke up with Peter just before spring break and entered into a relationship with Ivy. Jason later on realizes that he is still in love with Peter, parted ways with Ivy who is already pregnant. Jason pleaded to go back to Peter but the latter ignored him. The musical's climax was during the presentation of their school play where Jason died on stage in suffocation to the illegal drugs he took prior to the play. 

The most colorful  character in the play would be Sister Chantelle, who is also the directress of the school's theater club. For Ateneo Blue Repertory's version, Rem Zamora acts as Sister Chantelle and also alternates the role as a priest. Cutie Mark Bernardo acts as the drug dealer Lucas while Jenny Jamora performs as Peter's ever-busy mother. 

Reb Atadero as Peter and Jaime Barcelon as Jason

My expectations were exceeded when I sat down for the 3 hour and 30 minutes play. For a musical staged by an organization from a Catholic school, I was not really ready for a penis effigy shown during a school party sequence, a pumping sex scene between the characters of Jason and Ivy, a representation of Mother Mary as Diana Ross in Peter's hallucinations and the several lip-locking scenes of Peter and Jason. Not that these tainted Ateneo's stand on respect for the Church and its principles but rather, "Bare" proved how nuclear and open-minded the University can be when it comes to the Arts. With how liberated the play was presented, I'm sure Ateneo is confident the crowd can squeeze the message of the whole play: that we can always turn to God for help in difficult situations. 

Getting out of the plot and going into the other merits of the play, the talents of "Bare" were real stage performers. Don't expect performances similar to that of school-based dramatics clubs we so witness. They sang 99% of the time and they performed all through out the three-hour play like they were never tired. 

I love the song arrangements too. They were strictly melodies which could qualify as stand alone compositions, not like what we commonly hear from several musicals which are using hashed songs taking on almost similar tunes and repeated in several sequences. I was even singing some of the songs after I watched the play. My favorite songs are "One Kiss" (the seduction song of Ivy to Jason), "Best Kept Secret" (Jason and Peter's song after they confessed their love for each other), "Are You There" (Jason's song as he talks to God for answers), "God Don't Make No Trash" (Sister Chantelle's song when she was giving advise to Peter), "Warning" (the song of Claire, Peter's mother showing her acceptance on his sexuality) and of course "Bare", the lovers' song. All together, there are 19 songs in Act 1 and 17 songs in Act 2. 

The very intimate setting of Bare in Teatrino- Promenade Greenhills
The main cast: Jaime Barcelon as Jason, Cassie Manalastas as Nadia, Mark Bernardo as Lucas, Maronne Cruz as Ivy, and Reb Atadero as Peter

With how intimate Teatrino in Promenade Greenhills is, "Bare" proved that musicals are not about stunning sets and costumes. Primarily, musicals are staged for us to appreciate its storytelling through the actors' great performances in acting and singing. The Ateneo Blue Repertory's "Bare" did just that. A tap to the back of the excellent production team made up of the musical directors Onyl Torres and Joseph Tolentino, assistant musical director Abi Sulit, choreographer Carlon Matobato, and director Ana Abad Santos. 

How difficult is it to be gay in a Catholic school? I say it depends on how traditional your school is, the friends you keep, how your parents and your entire family support you, and how many gay men are there in your school. It can be easy or difficult but I say that gay as we already are, we can sway all the challenges through a song. 

Photo credits: Matthew Lee of Aperture Society

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