Jonathan Larson used the Puccini opera La Boheme as a framework to tell a story about a community of young artists living in Manhattan's Lower East Side and dealing with issues of poverty, identity, creativity, relationships, and AIDS. It's a story he lived (several of the characters are named after friends of his who died from AIDS), which is perhaps why it feels so real and vital. At the center of RENT are roommates Mark, a struggling filmmaker, and Roger, a rock musician still reeling from his recent HIV diagnosis. Into Roger's life comes Mimi, who convinces him that there is still life to live. Their friends include Mark's ex-girlfriend the performance artist Maureen, who is living with her new girlfriend, the lawyer Joanne; disgruntled college professor Collins; his new love the sweet transvestite Angel; and their old roommate Benny, who has sold out by marrying a rich woman and moving out and up. Over the course of a year these friends argue, love, break up, reunite, die, but most of all live. The characters in RENT don't have easy lives, but they cling to that life and each other because it's the only thing they have. How can a piece about death, disease, poverty, and drug abuse be so uplifting and inspiring? Because it cuts through all of the pain to celebrate the joy of life; that's the genius of it.*
|the cast of the 20th anniversary tour of RENT(photo by Carol Rosegg)|
|Mark and Roger (Danny Harris Kornfeld and|
Kaleb Wells, photo by Carol Rosegg)
For people who think that RENT is dated or no longer relevant, consider this: there are currently over a million people in the US living with (living with, living with, not dying from) HIV, with over 35,000 new cases every year. And the idea of living life to the fullest, being present in every moment, and loving the people around you, can never go out of style.*
RENT continues through June 11 only, with two performances on Saturday and Sunday. Buy tickets here, or take your chances with the daily lottery, a RENT tradition for 21 years (more info here).
*Some text borrowed from what I wrote about Lyric Arts' 2014 production.