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Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Bob Bartlett Bareback Ink

By • Jul 19th, 2012 • Category: Fringe, Reviews
Bareback Ink
Bob Bartlett
Gear Box (1021 7th St NW DC, 3rd Floor)
Through July 29th
65 minutes
Reviewed July 18th, 2012

Something less than 25 percent of the Fringe schedule is devoted to plays in the drama category. It’s likely than none are better than Bareback Ink, written and directed by Bowie State theater faculty member Bob Bartlett. The script is well written and the acting is first class, making for a riveting 60 minutes of theater.

The scene is a bare-bones tattoo parlor. The emotionally detached Artist (DC Cathro) is inking an elaborate tattoo on the back of the young, volatile Canvas (D. Grant Cloyd). The tattoo is based on a Rembrandt painting (reproduced in the program) of “The Rape of Ganymede,” a Greek myth concerning the abduction of a beautiful youth by Zeus, in the guise of an eagle. The Canvas is the Ganymede character in the play, having been raped by Zeus and made the god’s sex toy.

From the beginning, the Canvas desires the Artist, and longs for his touch. The Artist does not want to be touched and desires only to work. The Canvas is, by turns, needy, angry, sad, seductive, potentially violent, and tender. Cloyd moves among his character’s moods with quicksilver effortlessness, never overacting to convey the Canvas’ varied emotions. He is a skilled and subtle physical actor as well as a fine interpreter of Bartlett’s challenging script, both in monologues and the often-overlapping dialogs with Cathro.

Cathro’s Artist is a gruffer, rougher-hewn character, given to fewer words and less changeable moods. It is the Artist, however, who has the more profound character arc, as he gradually moves toward the possibility of tenderness and involvement. His timing with Cloyd is near perfect as he approaches, then retreats, then approaches again a kind of connection with the Canvas.

Zeus is, in effect, the third character in the play, manifesting himself by rolls of thunder and the occasional intrusive cell phone call. True to the spirit of Greek myth, Zeus is not a benign deity: he loves chaos, uses others for selfish ends, exerts power and will for their own sakes and is, in this telling, a sadistic pedophile. One of the many levels on which the script works well is in portraying the Canvas’ emotional turmoil in a way that is plausible for a victim of one of our current crop of religious or sports world abusers. The cautiously hopeful note by play’s end is that, in beginning to permit closeness with another, it is possible to at least imagine escape from gods and demons, whether those of myth or present-day reality.

In addition to delivering Bartlett’s well-chosen words beautifully, Cathro and Cloyd develop intense erotic tension between their characters, all the stronger for the thwarting of these feelings through much of the play. When the characters finally touch, in a scene in which they lie on the floor, lightly touching raised hands and arms, the effect is truly electric.

In small Gear Box space, where there is room for only a minimal number of stage lights, the lighting design (by John McAfee) effectively complements the feeling of the various scenes. Bartlett’s sound design, featuring thunder and rain, is well-timed and modulated.

If you are seeking drama at Fringe, this is one to make sure to see. In fact, this is the kind of play that is worth seeing more than once, with the likelihood that one will get more from it on a second viewing. Fortunately, there are 13 more performances between July 19 and the end of the Fringe Festival.

Cast

  • The Artist: DC Cathro
  • The Canvas: D. Grant Cloyd

Production Staff

  • Playwright, Director, Sound and Costume Designer: Bob Bartlett
  • Lighting Design: John McAfee

Disclaimer: Capital Fringe provided one complimentary media ticket to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.

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