Events ~ RENT ~ Providence

The 20th anniversary tour of RENT is at Providence Performing Arts Center until April 9. I saw it yesterday, and it was amazing.

If you're not familiar, RENT is an adaptation of Puccini's opera, La Boheme. It follows seven artists over the course of a year, through their ups, downs, lives, and loves. The story tackles tough issues like homelessness, sexuality and AIDS.

Mark, a struggling documentary filmmaker, lives with his friend Roger, a songwriter/guitarist, on the top floor of a former music printing factory in the East Village of New York City. Mark is the almost-Everyman, an observer and occasional Greek chorus to the audience. Roger, newly returned from rehab, is struggling with AIDS and addiction. He's sullen, angry and withdrawn, as actor Kaleb Wells plays him. It's a departure from Adam Pascal's drama queen from the original Broadway cast, and the only major change I noticed.

The two men are told by the building's owner, former friend and roommate Benny, that they will have to pay the last year's rent in order to stay. Alternately, they can convince Mark's ex-girlfriend, Maureen, to cancel her protest performance to save the lot next door.

On Christmas Eve, they're visited by longtime friend Collins, who's accompanied by new girlfriend Angel. Angel lives up to her name as the kind, loving heart and soul of the group. David Merino plays her sensationally, as a vivacious delight. the character is an audience favorite for good reason, and last night's audience went wild when she arrived onstage.

Later in the play, Aaron Harrington's Collins reprises their duet "I'll Cover You" as a solo that will squeeze your heart until tears come out of your eyes.

As Collins, Angel, and Mark leave, Roger is visited by Mimi, a young dancer looking to go out and have a good time. Mimi, played by Skyler Volpe, is a flexible, sensual powerhouse. A live-for-the-moment party girl/junkie who elbows her way into Roger's walled heart.

Christmas Eve culminates with a performance by Mark's former girlfriend, Maureen (Katie Lamark). The flirty, difficult Maureen stages a hilariously awful performance act to protest the clearing of a tent city in the vacant lot next door to Mark and Roger's building. She's demanding and obnoxious, and still manages to wrap Mark and her current girlfriend, Joanne (Jasmine Easler), around her self-indulgent fingers.

The next three acts are snippets of the year that follows. Break-ups, make-ups, illness, addiction, and powerful, emotional music. Even knowing the plot, and having seen a live performance and the movie, I was on the edge of my seat. The rest of the audience was energized in a way I haven't seen in any other play I've been to. Ever.

In the 20 years since RENT debuted, a lot has changed in the landscape of AIDS, but the play is still relevant and still uplifting.

PPAC has added a 6:30 show to Sunday, so there's still a chance to see RENT while it's in town.


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