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Bare: A de-Disneyed version of High School Musical 

There's enough safe agreeable theater down in York County for the onset of The Edge Theatre Company to be as comfortable as a poke in the eye. Jimmy Chrismon's guerilla group eased past their first anniversary at the South Pointe High School Auditorium last week with a high-energy production of Bare: A Pop Opera.

First presented in 2000 out in L.A. (and perhaps headed for Broadway next season), Bare might best be described as a de-Disneyed version High School Musical. Created by John Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo, the rivalries and sexual jealousies also unfold amid a high school drama production -- Romeo and Juliet. But beyond from the risk of coming out of the closet at a Catholic school, the travails of these protagonists and their circle include such non-Disneyworld concerns as obesity, teen pregnancy, illicit drugs and suicide.

Jonathan Van Caudill, outstanding as Officer Lockstock in the area premiere of Urinetown two years ago at UNC Charlotte, brought some of that same edgy charisma to Jason, the complex heartthrob who shows up at auditions on a whim and snags the role of Romeo. Brandon DiMatteo brought a straight-arrow fervor to Jason's true love, Peter, who contents himself with the role of Mercutio in the play-within-the-musical, and Maggie Monahan sorted out the complexities of Ivy, the seductive Juliet who reveals new charms for Jason in closeted life.

There were intriguing characters outside this bisexual triangle, beginning with Jason's sister, Nadia (Elizabeth Dial), who is relegated to the role of Juliet's Nurse because she's not as fetching as Ivy. Although cast as Tybalt, Matt (David Hutto) turned out to be less vindictive and homophobic in real life as the guy spurned by Ivy. Similarly, Peter's mom (Kerri Marks) and his Priest (Chrismon) were credibly chastened after the Jason-Peter romance flamed out in Romeo-Juliet style.

Under the direction of Ben Pierce, this was a far cooler production than Geography Club, the last show I saw at South Pointe. That's largely because the cast wasn't asked to fill the huge stage down yonder. Instead, the entire audience joined the players, surrounding them in a cozy thrust stage configuration that gave the presentation a far more professional -- and sinful -- aura.

Some of the three dozen songs by the Hartmere-Intrabartolo team could be purged without harming the dramatic impact of the opera, particularly the musical soliloquies that descend into self-pity. The Edge cast was excellent, but Pierce needed to make sure that the whole apothecary thread leading to Jason's suicide was clearer to the audience.

The slender thread of comedy that is so welcome in Bare was in good hands with Carmen Coulter as Sister Chantelle. As the drama teacher in charge of the R&J production, the righteous Sister sometimes cracked the whip, yet she was also the adult who was most empathetic toward Peter and his sufferings. She even got to moonlight as a black Virgin Mary in Peter's dreams, singing a soulful "911! Emergency!" with a pair of backup cherubs, easily the most heavenly showstopper of the evening.

If you missed Edge's Laramie Project: 10 Years Later at Story Slam back in October as well as last week's Bare, redemption is still possible when the company stages the area premiere of The History Boys on Feb. 4-7.

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