TMT presents heartbreak, suicide and gay lovers, plus music

I saw TCNJ Musical Theatre’s production of “Bare” on Friday.

I almost went back Saturday to try to figure out how TMT pulled it off, but I didn’t know if I could put my emotions through the wringer again.

“Bare” broke my heart, and judging by the number of damp faces that left the Don Evans Black Box Theatre with me, it wounded quite a few others’ as well during its Nov. 16-19 run at the College.

“Bare,” here directed by senior special education and English major Mark Accardi, tells the story of two gay teenagers, Jason and Peter, attending a Catholic boarding school. They’re dating — in secret — as each grapples with his sexuality and fights (or succumbs to) forces trying to tear the couple apart.

The cast of ‘Bare’ puts on a drug-fueled rave, complete with glowsticks, during one of the musical’s scenes. (Janika Berridge / Photo Assistant)

It’d be heavy stuff without a script and a soundtrack. Add those, and it’s easy to see how “Bare” could veer into melodrama in the wrong hands.

It often did.

But although the play turned maudlin at times — it’s difficult to conduct a play about high-school students without frequent bursts of angst — it was carried by several on-point actors who lent nuanced voices to their characters.

This is particularly true for junior civil engineering major Joey Tible and junior religious studies major Chrissy Isola. Playing the charismatic but unsure Jason McConnell and his sardonic but wounded sister Nadia, respectively, the two delivered charming and humane performances in difficult roles. Their scene together, during which Nadia sings “Plain Jane Fat Ass” — a song about herself — was one of the lighter moments in a show characterized by histrionics.

Then there were junior economics major Joe Fillari (Matt Lloyd) and senior computer science major William West (Peter Simonds). As jilted lovers, the two weren’t given roles that endear them instantly to the audience. This was particularly true in Fillari’s case; in fact, he was saddled with a role that required him to shout an ugly epithet midway through the play, simply because he was angry about being second best.

But the pair carried the gloom of their submissive roles believably. Fillari’s Matt was jaded, skulking, angry — but also cowardly. Although in a lesser play he may have been cast simply as a villain, in “Bare,” he was more than that. This is a testament to Fillari’s portrayal as much as it is to the writing and directing. (It would have been nice to see more of Fillari in the play.)

West’s Peter was sweet, haunted, nervy and sad. One of the major characters, he appeared frequently. His character wasn’t as bright a star as his counterpart, Jason, but the sadness that came through his eyes was compelling.

West and Fillari shined while singing  the song “Are You There?” together. Sung after the characters had gone to a party during which each was left by his lover, it was poignant without being over-the-top.

Last of the lead characters was sophomore communications major Monica Blumenstein. She did a nice job as Ivy, the resident “hot girl,” but her character nonetheless occasionally lapsed into stereotype. Scenes in which Ivy ached alone while belting out wrenching songs (in a lovely voice) were meant to add depth to the character, but it still seemed like Ivy fit the “misunderstood popular girl” stereotype to a tee.

The ensemble parts fleshed out the play, adding the melodramatic backdrop against which scenes featuring individuals could shine.

“Bare,” a love story about two men, drew its tension from the fact that the lovers were cast against a disapproving crowd. That crowd needed to make an impression — to wield its power — to be believable as a force standing against the men. It made that impression during intense and occasionally overwhelming ensemble scenes (“Epiphany,” “Rolling,” “Two Households,” to name a few).

The two men themselves — West as Peter and Tible as Jason — were excellent in their scenes together, which came across as neither forced nor cliché.

Overall, the play was a well-cast, well-executed production — and one that left quite a mark on its audience.