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Artsmash
Critic Tim Smith covers classical music, theater and visual arts in Baltimore and beyond
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Iron Crow Theatre presents mythology-inspired 'Bareback Ink'

Iron Crow Theatre Company

With a loaded title and a heavy foot in ancient Greek mythology, Bob Bartlett's new play "Bareback Ink" offers an intriguing take on sexual attraction and coercion, genuine and forced relationships, alienation and fear.

Iron Crow Theatre Company has given the work a tense, thoughtful staging at JHU's tucked-away
Swirnow Theatre, directed by Ryan Clark and designed by Heather Mork.

It may not persuade you that Bartlett has penned a masterpiece, but the combination of solid acting and production values (most notably the atmospheric contributions from lighting designer Alec Lawson and sound designer Jessye Black) gives the material a boost.

"Bareback Ink" reimagines the Greek myth of Zeus abducting and ravaging pretty boy Ganymede, a myth that played a significant role in early chapters of gay history and a good deal of visual art.

The action takes place solely in the antiseptic basement flat of a tattooer, Artist (Steve Satta), who is very much a captive to an unseen and thunderous person upstairs. That higher power has a kept boy toy, Canvas (Tanner Medding), who is sent to the Artist to get a major application of ink to his back.

Each man gets under the other's skin as a psychological journey of sorts unfolds. Canvas has many a question about his roots, the world beyond his grasp, and he develops what seems to be quite a crush on the rather cold and methodical Artist. For his part, the ink-er finds his world becoming more and more unsettled by this cocky youth.

Whether they can develop truly meaningful connections, let alone an escape plan, or whether they are doomed to endure something more akin to the fate of another Greek figure, Sisyphus, is not entirely clear. But there is no doubt that both men have been changed.

There are polished and nuanced performances from Satta and, especially, Medding, who brings remarkable naturalness to the mercurial role.

By turns gritty, poetic and opaque, the play doesn't add up to an entirely satisfying experience (judicious trimming would help). But there are fascinating layers beneath the surface of this inky encounter, and worthy questions about what's truly indelible.

Performances continue through Saturday

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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