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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

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Red flag reading

Social media is full of comments on what books are acceptable to read. There are warnings plastered all across online platforms declaring that it is a red flag if someone likes “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger or “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn, maybe even “The Stranger” by Albert Camus. At the same time, romance novels such as the ones by Colleen Hoover can not be recommended enough. I must confess, I would much rather engage in the “red flag reading” than force myself to read a sappy love story. 

I am aware romance is by far the most popular reading genre, however, I could never find myself enjoying it. To me, these romance novels are boring and unrealistic. Of course, I am sure there are some realistic love stories in literature, but it would still not be my preferred pick. Most of these novels have characters that are stuck in a trope to appease a certain kind of reader. They are predictable and sometimes even nauseating. For a vast majority of these novels, the reader is only left to wonder whether or not the couple will end up together and in most cases I simply do not care enough. This question alone is not enough to keep me entertained. 

This does not mean I am against all romance within literature. Clearly, my claim excludes the subplot of love stories within the “Percy Jackson” series, the “Hunger Games” series and “The Book Thief.” When it comes to the main characters involved in these romantic subplots, I do not mind the scenes in which they enter. Most of them are wholesome and interesting enough that it is worth the read. 

To clarify my point, not all romance in literature is bad. Despite the fact that two of my examples have to do with Greek Mythology and a dystopian universe, I feel as though these are more realistic. Romance should be a subplot of all life and that should be reflected in literature. I do not think that love should be the sole center of anyone’s life, which means I do not want to read a story where that seems to be the case. 

The reason I prefer books that are considered to be “red flags” is because they often include more complexity. The characters are not people who someone can easily adore and I think that brings some realism to literature. In life, personalities may not be as exaggerated as in these characters, however, they will have their own hidden secrets that you will not know until you foster a relationship. This idea of an imperfect character is interesting to me, it is fully up to the reader to decide what is forgivable or not. It is intriguing to see what other flaws readers will be able to look past, assuming there is no excuse for racism, sexism, abuse or anything within that sort of ideology. It is clear that many characters within this genre should not be idolized, making it a “red flag” when they are, however, they can be used to think critically about psychology and point of view.

The plots are also able to fall further away from set tropes. There can still be some sort of a category such as “Good for Her” novels, but it is not as predictable as when one hears of an enemies-to-lovers story. In my own personal reading, these novels have had more twists and turns to keep me more engaged than I  have been when trying to read romance novels. 

All of that being said, people should read what they want! If romance is what makes you happy, then I am happy as well and I would love to hear recommendations for romance novels that do not fall into the same categories I said I dislike. This reflection is just based on the books I have read so far in my life. I highly suggest pushing away the perceived notion and giving “red flag reading” a try.

You can contact Emma at eduffy5@nd.edu.

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

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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 cjimene4@nd.edu.

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

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‘We have but this one short life’: ‘Fire of Love’ sizzles at DPAC

When the unnatural destruction of France during World War II subsided, Katia and Maurice Krafft stepped out of the flames. Although they would not meet for another two decades, the couple experienced a mutual childhood ignition — the love of volcanoes sparked that within them. 

Brilliantly juxtaposing the unnatural flames of human war with grandiose lava flows and bubbling cauldrons of hot mud, “Fire of Love,” National Geographic’s most complete exploration of the human condition, intersperses gorgeous graphic explanations of geological phenomena with films made by the Kraffts during their adventures. My mouth gaped in awe for 90 minutes straight. The film’s stars are also its creators: Maurice and Katia were world-renowned volcanologists and humble yet incredible filmmakers. 

Often stepping too close to the lava and constantly dreaming about riding his canoe down a lava flow, Maurice, alongside his film camera, is the visionary, capturing dreams for the world to see. Between the more serious topics covered in Sara Dosa’s documentary, Maurice’s “dad jokes” add a comedic lightness that made the viewing experience less overwhelmingly intense and much more fun. 

Katia, less than half Maurice’s size, is the true genius, capturing precise stills of the red, yellow and gray mountains that draw the couple ever closer. Although Maurice jokes that the couple often “erupts” at each other, their love is evident. 

Even as they both note that television appearances, books and films are nothing but the easiest way to pay the bills when they would rather be near the fire, the Kraffts’ filmmaking truly blurs the line between art and science. Utilizing a Wes Anderson-esque God’s Eye perspective, Maurice and Katia zoom out to show geologic scale and zoom in to show their volcanologist instruments at work. 

The documentary, however, does not delve too deeply into the science. As a history major, I was satisfied with the narrator’s calm explanation of plate tectonics and the beautiful visuals that went along with it. But “Fire of Love” is a romance through and through. Simultaneously, it captures Maurice and Katia’s love for each other and their mutual love for the Earth. Possibly disappointing the scientists, though, volcanology methods remain a mystery to me even after two watches.

And when the Kraffts are not there to capture an eruption, director Sara Dosa does an even better job of demonstrating volcanic scale. Katia and Maurice are stuck in France when Mt. St. Helens erupts in 1980, so they could provide no footage, but Dosa compiles a beautiful and horrifying collage: a journalist abandons their camera in a nearby village as ash hurls towards it; a hiker 50 kilometers away photographs an ash cloud that obscures their entire field of vision; and a villager hundreds of kilometers further witnesses the mushroom cloud that ensues mere minutes after eruption. 

Witnessing those images in turn, I couldn’t help but gape. In all honesty, the images are beautiful, but I felt almost guilty experiencing awe at such a destructive event. Dosa soon brought me back to reality. For how awe-inspiring the documentary is, it is not naively romantic.

Katia and Maurice are not religious, nor are they fond of humanity as a natural force. If it were possible to eat rocks, they may never come down from the volcano back into society. 

“We have but this one short life before we return to the ground,” they say. But Katia and Maurice are not nihilistic nor egoistic. When Nevado del Ruiz erupts in Columbia and kills 25,000 people, they spring into action, creating films and action plans to inspire evacuation efforts in other volcano zones. This time, governments listen to the volcanologists, saving thousands of future lives. 

Of course, Katia and Maurice know that their short life will come to an end, and it soon does. In the 1991 Japanese Mt. Unzen eruption, the lovers return to the ground next to each other, buried under a flow of lava, forever enshrined in the flames that created them. However cliché it may seem, I stepped out of DPAC feeling more grounded, more willing to search.

Title: “Fire of Love”

Starring: Maurice and Katia Krafft

Director: Sara Dosa

If you like: “The Alpinist,” “Free Solo,” “Moonrise Kingdom”

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

Mark Valenzuela

Contact Mark at mvalenz3@nd.edu