Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Rent"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Larry Stark


"Rent"

Book,Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Original Concept and Additional Lyrics by Billy Aronson
Music Supervision and Additional Arrangements by Tim Weil

Directed by Benjamin Evett
Musical Direction by Todd C. Gordon
Choreographed by Kelli Edwards

Scenic Design by Kathryn Kawecki
Costume Design by Frances Nelson McSerry
Lighting Design by John R. Malinowski
Light Crew Richie DeJesus
Properties Design by Joe Stallone
Dramaturg Lynn Thomson
Set Construction Crew Joe DeMita, Alan Kivnik, Christian Masters, Henry Beckvold
Assistant Stage Manager Misaki Nishimiya
Stage Manager Julien Winter Tremblay

ORCHESTRA
Keyboards...........................Todd C. Gordon
Guitar.................................Erik Puslys
Bass..............................Brian Grochowski
Percvussion..........................Zachary Hardy

CAST

Mark................................John Ambrosino
Mrs. Cohen/Ensemble...................Julia Broder
Benny..................................Danny Bryck
Maureen..............................Aimee Doherty
Mimi.....................................Eve Kagan
Joanne..................................Robin Long
Gordon/Ensemble.....................Joe Longthorne
Mr. Jefferson/The Man/Ensemble....Grant MacDermott
Paul/Ensemble.....................Andrew Oberstein
Alexi Darling/Ensemble.............Adrienne Paquin
Tom Collins......................Maurice E. Parent
Squeegie Man/Waiter/Ensemble.....Matthew A. Romero
Mrs Jefferson/Blanket Person/Ensemble...Cheryl D. Singleton
Roger..........................Robert St. Laurence
Angel.................................Nick Sulfaro

A Review by Larry Stark

The first Theater Mirror review NOT by me dealt with the Boston tour production of "Rent"; it was an inarticulate rave; only later did I learn the reviewer had auditioned for an ensemble part, but his slavish praise didn't help him get it.
For the next fourteen or so years "Rent" and I matured, but our paths never crossed. Then just last year I got to see the Boston Conservatory's big, lavish, full-out production and, while I was enthusiastically astonished at the performances, I couldn't figure out what all the fuss was had been about. I couldn't even understand the plot.
But this year Everyone is "RENTing" and so I went back for one (or was it two) more --- and finally, this week, Benjamin Evett and Todd C. Gordon and a bunch of old friends over at the New Rep dusted it off, dug deep into the old warhorse, and made it something I could understand and, yes, and love. Either it's finally grown up, or I have.

I suppose everyone has seen one of the big, spectacular tours that have come through town, or that movie version that snuck in without my even noticing. And probably those productions took the characters' dreams as fact --- as the Boston Conservatory did --- and portrayed everyone as superstars just waiting to be discovered.

Instead, Ben Evett takes them as they are: a neo-Bohemian bunch of hippy wanabees illegally squatting in an abandoned Greenwich Village loft keeping themselves warm by the candle-light of their artistic illusions. But only two of them actually make it: Benny (Danny Bryck) who married money and bought the building, hoping to turn it into a rock-version of tin-pan alley and live off the successes of his old friends; and Mark (John Ambrosino) the narrator, with his ubiquitous digital t-v camera documenting everything he sees, who is tapped by an eager agent (Adrienne Paquin) to direct some shlocky scripts even he can't stomach.

My clue, in this production, was the much-anticipated, never on-time creative and sexual powerhouse Maureen, who fancies herself a performance-artist intent on remaking the world with her show. Aimee Doherty (who auditioned for this part, so different from anything she's done before) bounded energetically about the stage as an unapologetic egotist. Her performance piece ("Over The Moon"), complete with pauses and asides and soto-voice stage-directions, positively dripped the sincere amateurism of reach exceeding grasp. Maureen infatuates and infuriates her ex-lover Mark and her current lover Joanne (Robin Long) by turns.

The true redeemer in this scruffy squatters' paradise is a cross-dressing, hesitant homosexual called Angel --- beautifully under-played by Nick Sulfaro. A healer who dies of AIDS, Angel is gently, sincerely accepting of everyone and every thing, and when he climbs the stairs in an ethereal death-scene, stripped of everything earthly, heaven is his (her?) obvious destination --- yet memories of her literally change the world.

You may wish to remember a "Rent" wrapped in glitz and glory, or prefer the heavy-metal cast-recordings. The New Rep version over at Watertown Arsenal digs instead for the frail human sincerity under all that. It fills its world with people groping toward one another through their frailties. There's always The Man (Grant MacDermott) with expensive little baggies of white powder. So what if Roger (Robert St. Laurence) takes all year to craft a single song; so what if Mimi (Eve Kagan) is an insecure nymphomaniac afraid to be loved. There are fifteen actors here bringing twenty-five characters alive by interacting with one another. The result is a "Rent" that may not be to your taste.
It is to mine.

Love,
===Larry Stark

"Rent" (4 September - 2 October)
NEW REPERTORY THEATRE
@ Arsenal Center for The Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, WATERTOWN MA
1(617)923-8487

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