Rent is an artsy head-spin

PHOTO: Pia Johnson

The tale of Rent and the untimely death of its writer and lyricist Jonathan Larson the night before the original production opened off Broadway in 1996 is a tale that will always pull on the heartstrings.

The production went on to win multiple Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize, so there’s no denying the majority of theater goers and critics enjoyed Rent. Yet, I found it extremely hard to follow and a little overdramatic at times.

LPD Productions’ performance was true to the original and still captured the electricity of youth and passion of protest.

The cast were fierce and grappled with the strong themes of suffering and hardship. However, when each character was introduced, I was craving more of their story.

I found Rodger, played by Jerrod Smith, to be such an interesting character but his story, which was obviously complex behind the scenes, was consistently brushed over.

Similarly, the character of Mimi (Martha Berhane) could have had a much larger role in playing a pivotal part to the storytelling of drug addiction and homelessness. I was so lost throughout her storyline I totally missed that Mimi also had AIDS.

Nick Afoa was the standout talent. His stage presence is undeniably remarkable. His portrayal of the zealous and heartfelt Collins was touching and nothing short of incredible.

Afoa’s flair was complemented superbly by the multi-faceted talent Carl De Villa and their portrayal of Angel.

De Villa was outstanding and demanded the audience’s attention no matter where they stood on stage. Whether they were singing amongst the ensemble cast or doing it solo, jaws dropped at the indisputable ability they possess.

PHOTO: Pia Johnson

By intermission, I was feeling confused by the endless storylines and sub plots. I overheard two audience members say the show was timeless which only left me more confused. I couldn’t have disagreed more. I thought to myself, am I just not cool enough to get it?

The set design from the beginning of the show was captivating and provided relevant context. But when scaffolding movement was intertwined with the choreography, I forgot where the characters were.

It was at this point that Rent felt overly artsy. I can’t really find another word to describe it. And when Maureen (Calista Nelmes) stood center stage dressed as an alienated cow, I questioned whether the story was a parody of protesting twenty-somethings the entire time and I just haven’t caught on. Upon scene change, that theory was lost once again.

As much as the talent of the cast was breath-taking and the production was in no doubt well put together and executed beautifully, I felt the story itself was too difficult to decipher.

I spent too much of Rent trying to figure out what Rent was, rather than understanding the issues of HIV, housing, and drug addiction which I imagine is what Larson wished viewers to grasp.

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