Time To Pay Rent
It used to be that the entire town would close up once the summer hit. There was little to do except pack up and head out of town. Now there are several theatre companies who are taking the ultimate risk and putting on challenging and entertaining productions, offering a great opportunity for those of us who stay in town. The Firehouse Theatre Project has chosen Jonathan Larson’s RENT as its summer production, and theatre critic John Porter gives his take on the show. RENT runs through August 1, 2010 and tickets and more information are available at www.firehousetheatre.org.
The last couple of summers, the Firehouse Theater Project has put on an extra work that appeals to a different audience, the kind of play that brings in college students and younger adults. These plays have escalated in their intensity and their latest offering,"Rent" by Jonathan Larson, may be the penultimate offering that sets the bar for all their future productions.
"Rent" is one of those plays that has almost everything working for it: a solid book, after all, the story is based on Puccini's "La Boheme", the music and lyrics are by Jonathan Larson, a brilliant theater artist who died the night before his play opened off-Broadway. Briefly, the story revolves around a group of artists who are living and trying to thrive and create in alphabet city, while under the shadow of the early days of AIDS.
I've been watching director Jase Smith since he was in college; while his student works were interesting, it really wasn't until he turned professional that he really began to grow. He has gotten bolder with his choices, and "Rent" shows a maturity and assuredness that belies his young age.
Smith has put together a terrific cast that includes Nick Aliff as Mark, the narrator of the show, who helps give us a face and voice for this creative castaways. Aliff has a good voice and presence and he brings his everyman character to life with ease.
Other outstanding members of the cast include Antonio Tillman as Angel, the cross-dressed heart of the group; while Angel is dying from AIDS, Z manages to be one of the forces that unites the group. It's a tricky role and Tillman does an admirable job.
Durron Tyre is Tom Collins, Angel's lover, a disenchanted philosopher who finds his direction while caring for Angel during the last stages. Tyre is another underrated actor who gets a chance to sink his teeth into a great role.
Joy Newsome as JoAnne turns in yet another magnificent performance. Newsome is a force of nature that has all the tools to become a well-known performer, and you might want to catch her here while you have the chance. Her lover in this play is played by Jacquelynn Camden, who is one actress that knows how to make an entrance. Camden is deliciously over-the-top and her performance is electrifying. These two together are mesmerizing.
On the technical side, Musical Director Leilani Mork has assembled a terrific band and worked with her singers very well; "Rent" is driven by the music. If you find the dialogue lacking for any reason, wait a couple of minutes and you'll be treated to another great song.
Maggie Marlin's choreography is crisp, given the intimate confines of the Firehouse; David MacLaine's set is very good, moving us from the street to the squatted apartment with ease, but I found his lights to be too dark; they were probably extremely close to what a realistic situation may be, but I found it hard to see at times.
If you are familiar with "Rent", you've probably already made reservations; if not, you should consider getting tickets early - it's going to be a big seller.
"Rent" runs at the Firehouse Theater through August 1st.
For WCVE-HD Public Radio, I'm John Porter.