Gay love laid ‘Bare’ in PEMCo’s fall show

As Congress was passing the Respect for Marriage Act last week, members of Pasquerilla East Musical Company (PEMCo) were hard at work preparing for their fall show, “Bare: A Pop Opera,” which features a closeted gay couple. 

“Bare” is a rock-musical focusing on the secret lives of a group of private Catholic boarding school students. Although the musical’s main protagonist is Peter (Josh Vo), a closeted Catholic teen, the musical converges around the life of Peter’s roommate and secret boyfriend, Jason (Luc Plaisted). Almost everybody else in the musical is connected to Jason in some way: insecure Nadia (Olivia Seymour) is his sister, the — by reputation — promiscuous Ivy (Avery Trimm) has a crush on him and Matt (Tim Merkle) is jealous of him for stealing away his role in the school play and his crush, Ivy. 

Vo is an incredibly compelling lead as Peter. He’s not only a great singer, but he plays Peter’s struggle to accept his sexuality in a remarkably compassionate way. He shines in his solo “Role of a Lifetime,” with his voice delicately rising and falling – but never losing strength – as he sings, “God, I need your guidance / Tell me what it means / To live a life where nothing’s as it seems.” Peter’s queer experience is directly informed by his Catholic upbringing, slowly turning from religious paranoia in the opening act (“Epiphany”) to joyous acceptance (“God Don’t Make No Trash!”). Encouraged by his vision of the Virgin Mary (who he humorously mistakes for Diana Ross) and the support of his drama teacher, Sister Chantelle, Peter gains the courage let the world know who he truly is and come out to his mom in a heartbreaking performance of “See Me.”

Likewise, Plaisted navigates Jason’s complexity with a grace that makes the difficult role look easy. Jason is the musical’s anti-hero and a narrative foil to Peter. He’s the typical Troy Bolton-type: popular and top-of-his-class, but hiding a secret that might jeopardize his reputation. But in this case, Jason loves a boy instead of musicals. Fearing how his family and friends will react to coming out, Jason keeps his relationship with Peter a secret – to the extent of cheating on him. He betrays Peter when he kisses Ivy, then goes all the way with her in an explicit performance of “One.” He also betrays his faith, flinging his rosary across the stage after a priest essentially tells him to “pray the gay away” (“Cross”). At every turn, he never fails to run away from his authentic self and leaves a trail of destruction in his wake: a betrayed Peter, a pregnant Ivy and a heartbroken Nadia. Yet, Plaisted’s performance makes Jason somebody who is hard to hate.

Trimm and Seymour balance out the starring cast with riveting performances as roommates Ivy and Nadia. Although the characters seem diametrically opposed from the start, they aren’t so different. Nadia and Ivy are both victims of the same patriarchal structure, just at opposite ends. Nadia is insecure about her appearance (“Plain Jane Fatass”) and Ivy is scared that people see her as just another pretty face (“Portrait of a Girl”). The strength of their friendship is solidified when Ivy tearfully confides in Nadia about her pregnancy (“All Grown Up”). Nadia is easy to dislike given her internalized misogyny and general over-the-top teen angst, but Seymour’s performance turns her into a charming side character. Ivy, however, is given more complexity from the get-go and Trimm tackles the role exceptionally well.

The cast is rounded out by sophomore Angie Castillo as the spirited Sister Chantelle and the Virgin Mary, who adds levity to the serious themes with the fun musical numbers. The choreography and backup dancers in “911! Emergency!” is an excellent addition to her performance as a sassy Virgin Mary. Merkle adds a certain shyness to Matt in a duet with Vo (“Are You There”) showing the trials and tribulations of love are, in fact, universal. Graduate MFA student Jacob Moniz is perfectly cast as St. Cecelia’s resident bad boy, Lucas, in a performance reminiscent of Patrick in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

While the set transitions were a bit laborious at times, the dynamic set design for the smaller Washington Hall Lab Theatre effectively distinguished changes from school chapels to dorm rooms to raves and parties and back again. The costume design was also heavily influenced by traditional Catholic school uniforms. Some characters even have their own twist on the St. Cecelia dress code: Ivy keeps her blouse unbuttoned while Nadia hides away in a gray cardigan. 

Although PEMCo did a great job with this production, “Bare” is a little outdated. Since the musical was written in the early 90s, right off the tail end of the devastating AIDs epidemic, the tragic ending ultimately feels like a byproduct of the loss felt by the gay community. I believe it was difficult for writers Damon Intrabortolo and Jon Hartmere to imagine a happy ending for Jason when a happy ending was robbed for so many gay men, but his death felt unnecessary and tactless. I, for one, am glad there are other stories that leave space for queer joy, and happier endings.

Despite my qualms with the ending, it’s important to acknowledge the context in which PEMCo’s production took place. “Bare” premiered fifteen years before same-sex marriage was signed into law. This run of “Bare” was performed just days after the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), which allows same-sex couples to get federal benefits and recognizes out-of-state same-sex marriage, passed in Congress. 

Yet, hate crimes are still happening. Yet, the University stays silent. Yet, the University’s non-discriminatory clause excludes both sexual orientation and gender identity. Yet, conservative groups on campus continuously condemn the LGBTQ+ community and RFMA. Sadly, “Bare” and its message remain progressive.

PEMCo’s production of “Bare” dares its audience to embrace authenticity and closely examine our relationships. It bravely presents our campus community with a choice: Do we stand behind LGBTQ+ students like Sister Chantelle or do we fail them like Jason’s priest? Shouldn’t the University authentically stand behind its claims about diversity and inclusion?

When I left “Bare” and looked at the faces of my classmates, I wondered how much we really allow ourselves know each other. I wondered in what ways each and every one of us run from authenticity. I wondered what we look like “stripped bare beneath all the layers” and the things we don’t talk about and why.

Musical: “Bare: A Pop Opera”

Director: Trey Paine

Produced by: Pasquerilla East Musical Company

Starring: Luc Plaisted, Josh Vo, Avery Trimm

Where: Washington Hall Lab Theatre

When: Dec. 1- 3

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5


Tootsie Rolls mean ‘I love you’

Tootsie Rolls rank number 27 on Vox’s Halloween candy ranking. For me, Tootsie Rolls are number one. 

Once a week in elementary school, my class would split into two groups and make the journey downstairs, where each group would have one class period in the library and one in the computer lab. 

Everybody was always excited to see the librarian. They’d wave enthusiastically and say, “Hi Mrs. McGee!” “Thank you, Mrs. McGee!” “Have a nice day, Mrs. McGee!” When people said, “It’s nice to see you, Mrs. McGee,” she’d say, “It’s nice to be seen,” and she meant it. She loved to be with people and to talk to people and to brag about her grandchildren. 

Mrs. McGee made a great librarian. She also made a great Mom Mom.

Having my Mom Mom as a librarian was a joy because it is nice to be seen; it’s even nicer to see and be seen by people you love. 

During the school day my Mom Mom couldn’t show any obvious preference for me over the other kids, even though they all knew she was my grandmom. I was there to learn like everybody else, looking for the book that would be mine for the week.

When I finally made a choice, most likely a musty-smelling “Magic Treehouse” book that I was lucky to get my hands on, I went to the checkout and said my code “585.” 

I would happily slide the book across the desk. My Mom Mom would stamp the logout sheet on the inside of the cover and slide it back to me with the addition of a Tootsie Roll.

She didn’t have to say what the Tootsie Roll meant. I knew. 

My Mom Mom McGee always carried Tootsie Roll midgees. It sounds like it came straight from a nursery rhyme; It was sweeter than that.

Everywhere she went, she would have a few Tootsie Rolls in her pocket or her purse because what if she saw me? What if she saw my sisters? Being together was grounds for celebration; it was grounds for sharing Tootsie Rolls. 

I have a distinct memory of sitting on the picture day chair in my elementary school’s cafeteria and seeing my Mom Mom pass through the room. She walked right up to me, as I was sitting for my photo, and put a Tootsie Roll in my hand. I’m smiling nice and big in that picture; it is indeed nice to be seen.

When I went over to my Mom Mom’s house, I always looked forward to snagging an orange popsicle from the freezer or eating Milano cookies, which were her favorite. I loved climbing on the pink flower tree on the side of the house and trying to beat my sister to the reclining chair in the sitting room before we watched “Dancing with the Stars.”

But the thing that reminds me the most of my Mom Mom is Tootsie Rolls. At her house we had to do some impressive climbing to get to the Tootsie Rolls and Tootsie Pops, which were hidden on top of the fridge, but that made them all the more enjoyable.

My Mom Mom came over to my house a lot, often unannounced, which was bothersome at the time. She’d pull down the driveway in her maroon Honda, rosary beads swinging from the mirror and Post-It note reminders on the dashboard. She often parked askew across the grass. Then she’d walk in the kitchen door without knocking and in a shaky, old woman voice yell “Hello! Maureen?” Maureen is my mom. My Mom Mom would always bring random items and decorations with her to our house. “I found these in the garage,” she’d say to my mom, “I thought that you could use them.” We most likely did not want the decorations or old sweatshirts or gifts that we gave her for Christmas that she thought we might enjoy more than her. But on her way out, there were the Tootsie Rolls being handed around the room and all of us wanted one of those. 

She came to my sports games, my church readings, she even came to my handbell concerts. She was at almost every event that my sisters and I participated in. 

Every time we said goodbye, no matter the meeting spot, she would dig around her black Coach bag for Tootsie Rolls to give us.

I don’t know many people that point to Tootsie Rolls as their favorite candy. I’m not sure they would take the top spot on my list either, that is if they didn’t taste so much like love

Erin Drumm


Nov. 5

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


‘Entergalactic’: A taste of happiness

On Sept. 30, Kid Cudi released his eighth solo album, “Entergalactic,” alongside a Netflix animated rom-com of the same name.

A Cudi fan since middle school, I’m glad to be afforded the opportunity to check in on my fellow Clevelander while carrying out research for this review.

Out of the album’s 15 tracks, “Livin’ My Truth” and “My Drug” best capture the polar themes of independence and love that Cudi develops in this work. You hear Cudi latching onto these two avenues toward happiness from within the structure of loneliness and alienation that underlies all of his music.

I am thrilled to see Cudi, a man who has struggled like the best of us with mental health troubles and addiction through most of his life, finding that elusive fulfillment inside himself. Right off the bat, tracks two and three of the album, “New Mode” and “Do What I Want,” acclaim the joys of a humbly confident worldview. One hesitation Cudi’s new mindset may warrant is its predisposition toward carelessness. I’m not saying that the guy shouldn’t party, but only warning about the piled-up mental burden that unrestrained indulgence in freedom lends itself to. All I hope for is Cudi’s happiness, that this newfound independence is grounded in Cudi’s recognition of his worth as a human being rather than in others’ perception of him as a celebrity.

The second theme, love, is the more dominant thread of the work. It’s a win for Cudi fans that this love seems to be for an actual human being in contrast to the love of marijuana that so dominates Cudi’s earlier discography. As heard in the songs “Angel” and “Can’t Shake Her,” the love Cudi has for a presumed girlfriend takes on a messianic component. Amidst the throngs of perhaps decades-long depression, Cudi has regained his will to live life to its fullest thanks to the deliverance by the hand of some lucky woman. Again here, I see a danger in Cudi’s music that possibly stems more from my own aversion to the virtues lauded by the 2022 music industry than something Cudi has done personally. Due to the sensual nature in which Cudi describes his love, I’m worried that Cudi may become too dependent on his love for his girlfriend and that he might even be conflating love with a chemical drug. I wish Cudi’s love life as much success as I would any man.I just hope that he found a well-ordered type of love that’s good for him down to the soul.

The animated movie is worth a watch for Cudi fans, but I wouldn’t recommend it to the standard Netflix viewer. The themes from the album — love and independence — play out in a colorfully animated New York City. A street artist and a photographer, neighbors, fall in love despite the best efforts of that toxic ex-girlfriend. A good dose of the new album, former Cudi music and kaleidoscope visuals makes the film more of a psychedelic musical more than anything else.

Though I don’t imagine myself blaring any of Cudi’s new music on repeat as I still do today with songs like “Soundtrack 2 My Life,” “Just What I Am” and “Erase Me,” I’m so happy that Cudi put out this multimedia project. I think it’s got to be hard for an artist like Cudi, who has founded his career on themes like sadness, to break out with a positive ideology both personally and professionally. Cudi’s creativity will forever be his greatest appeal, and that the reason why I have always resonated with his music. In “Entergalactic,” this hallmark shines brilliantly through.

Artist: Kid Cudi

Album: “Entergalactic”

Label: Republic Records

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

Contact Peter at


The wizard of loneliness

My favorite moment in comedy television history happens in the “Smokers Allowed” episode of “Nathan for You.” If you haven’t seen the show, the general premise is a spoof on reality TV shows like “The Bachelor” and “Undercover Boss.” Comedian Nathan Fielder contacts small-business owners to be on the show under the guise of a serious business consultant but instead proposes ridiculous business plans. In this particular episode, Fielder helps a bar owner exploit a loophole about indoor smoking by turning her bar into an experimental theater performance. 

During a rehearsal with local actors and actresses he hired, the recently-divorced Fielder pulls an actress aside and claims her performance as a romantic interest isn’t convincing enough. “You see, I’m not believing you at this point,” he says. He asks to try an exercise. He asks her to look into his eyes and tell him she loves him. He asks again. Then, he asks again and again. Again. Again. Again. His voice gets softer each time until it is barely a whisper. He swallows hard in the pauses. He melts a little into his chair. You get the sense that Fielder could keep asking the actress to say “I love you” until the words entirely lose their meaning. The joke certainly goes on for longer than it has to. She only stops to tell Fielder he has tears in his eyes. “That felt real to me,” he says. Notice how he says real. Notice how he doesn’t say he believes it. 

I like this scene precisely because it isn’t funny. Watching Fielder at this moment is like viciously and savagely pointing a finger at my own reflection. The “I love you” loop plays over and over in my head in class, late at night as I stare up at the ceiling in the dark, during supper hour as I gruelingly gnaw at whatever meal that’s served up to me in the dining hall. In short, it hit a nerve, and I’m still unsure of how to write about it. 

Fielder is often lovingly referred to as “the wizard of loneliness” by fans, based on a mean-spirited joke made by the show’s private investigator. “You remind me of the wizard of loneliness because you’re your own self — your own wizard,” the investigator says. “Look at you…You have no friends.” Although I have friends and I’m sure Fielder does as well, I can’t help but feel like the wizard of loneliness. I can count on my fingers the number of people I feel like I can really talk to. Most of them are on the other side of the globe, studying abroad. My father and I don’t call anymore. Part of me sometimes wonders if there is some fundamental aspect of my personality that drives people away, but I don’t entirely mind being alone. I spent last summer white-water rafting, raving at music festivals, riding my bike to Trader Joe’s and making friends on the CTA trains all by myself. So, I ask: What makes being “your own self” so incompatible with being with “having friends”?

I feel like a lot of us feel that love is conditional. We believe we must be more successful, more outgoing, more intelligent, etc. for us to matter. We must perform in certain ways to fit in. Part of us cringes at Fielder’s awkwardness, but can we really blame the wizard of loneliness for asking for love? It’s such an incredibly universal human impulse.

Everybody knows the actress’s answer is a performance, even Fielder. In a way, it makes us more comfortable. But Fielder isn’t performing anymore. He’s genuinely being himself for a moment. In fact, his authenticity punctures through the show’s layers of artifice. He asks the question that we all secretly want to ask. It’s raw and unsettling. He doesn’t believe her, but he doesn’t care. It feels real enough to him.

Maybe that’s what matters: having the authenticity of asking instead of receiving, having the courage to be the wizard of loneliness instead of anybody else.

You can contact Claire at

The views expressed in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


Everything I know about love in college 

Recently, I read “Everything I Know About Love” by Dolly Alderton, which I highly recommend reading before entering your twenties. I can’t say I have many experiences dabbling with love; however, I’ve always had this idea that I’ll meet this boy who would fix everything. It felt like finding this love would make life brighter. Romantic love seemed like the most exciting and worthwhile thing on this earth. However, the reality of dating in college is that you are on a completely different page than boys, and let me tell you that it is heartbreaking when you become aware of this. 

Some of us are born with the idea that true love exists. It’s a belief system that keeps us locked up in a fantasy, turning real life into a disappointment over and over again. The reality is that love isn’t meant to be this fantasy of pure happiness, and looking for this fantasy is exhausting. At the end of the day all this deters you from noticing the real love you found at college. Those late nights running back from Main Circle to the dorm with your best friends. Those Olivia Rodrigo concerts in your room after a breakup, singing until your throats feel dry. The Huddle Mart runs after every place closed at 9 and your stomachs are grumbling. The nights where they hold onto you until you can finally breathe again from all the crying. 

The thing is you have found true love (hopefully). You’ve known each other for many months and in all that time, you’ve never gotten bored of them. You fall more and more in love with them the older you get and the more experiences you share. You have an abundance of love already in your life. Sure, it’s not the love that kisses you by the Dome or proposes marriage at the Grotto. But, I know it will listen when you cry, it will celebrate your highs, promise to beat him up when he’s being mean, be first row at your wedding and grow along with you. And, honestly, there’s an eternal peace knowing you will always have someone in your corner who accepts you for all flaws. This type of love is forever. So, keep it as close to you as you can. 

And like Dolly said, “Anyone can be […] fancied. It is a far greater thing to be truly loved.”

You can contact Carolina Andrea at

The views expressed in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.