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Teenage angst laid 'bare' at New Line Theatre

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 11, 2011 - Remember those carefree, fun-filled teenage years?

Me neither.

Adolescence can be a torturous time of insecurity, unrequited love and shuffling through various social masks to find out who you really are. Discovering one's place in the world while also battling acne, bad hair and bullying is the theme of "bare," presented by New Line Theatre June 2-25.

The pop opera, first staged in Los Angeles in 2000 and debuting on Broadway in 2004, has attracted a cult following. Not only has the "Rent"-inspired production become a cult favorite, it's a good fit for New Line's edgy image. But there's another big reason why New Line's artistic director Scott Miller chose "bare."

During his 2008 production of "Hair," the 47-year-old Miller had a startling realization: Those who made up the target audience of the iconic 1960s musical were now senior citizens. Producing "bare" would help keep the theater company young.

"I'm making peace with the fact that I'm now middle-age," Miller said. "And it's really important to me that we not let New Line get middle-age."

Yearning To Be Heard And Known

As "bare" progresses, the audience finds out that popular girl Ivy seems to have it all but she's really lonely, insecure and pining for Jason.

Peter is trying to make sense of his own feelings for Jason, especially within the realm of a Catholic high school. Meanwhile, overweight Nadia, Jason's twin, keeps everyone at a distance with her cutting remarks.

Setting the emotional stage are the tryouts for another play, the school's production of "Romeo and Juliet."

"Did you really hear me? Would you really know me?" the yearning-to-be-heard-and-accepted cast belts out in "Audition." Those raw adolescent emotions were still fresh as composer Damon Intrabartolo -- whose work includes "X-Men 2," "Fantastic Four" and "Dreamgirls" -- and lyricist Jon Hartmere began to write "bare" when they were only 21.

"Whether you're straight or gay, those teenage years are fraught with land mines," Hartmere said.

Parents: Pay Attention

School isn't the only place where teens struggle to fit in. Living up to parental expectation is also a challenge. The play has an important message for moms and dads as well as teenagers: "Learning to accept your children and love them no matter what," Hartmere said.

As much as teenagers appear to blow their parents off, they still need their approval when it comes to numerous issues including their career aspirations, according to Mike Dowdy, who plays Peter.

"They may want to be a race car driver or an actor, or whatever," Dowdy said. "And they worry about whether their parents will accept them."

Unlike his character, Dowdy, 26, lived through very little trauma when he came out as gay at Warrenton High School.

"I never got bullied; I never saw the ugliness. People just accepted it," Dowdy said.

But Dowdy's experience may be all too rare.

"I've yet to meet anyone who had the perfect high school experience and who doesn't remember feeling lonely and left out and confused and scared," Hartmere said.

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

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