Thursday, Feb. 26, the USF College Player’s performance of “Rent:” premiered. Although the first night of any performance usually has snafus, caused by error of the actors or technical difficulties, the performance went smoothly – and enraptured the enthusiastic audience.
The play, based off of the French opera La Bohème, follows the lives of a group of friends living in New York City at the turn of the millennium. One of the most powerful aspects about the play is its expose on the gritty realities of being a struggling artist in New York City. Mainstream media representations of New York often cast a flattering light on the city, i.e., “It’s a Wonderful Life”, a film that is referenced in “Rent.” The idyllic “The City at Christmas’’ trope is absent in “Rent,” to make room for powerful social commentary and biting depictions of pain.
The eclectic group of friends struggle with HIV/AIDS, drug addiction, relationships, and poverty. “Rent” is set in the East Village’s Alphabet City in the early nineties, when AIDS was a widespread pandemic with most diagnosis leading to death. The play captures the hardships of the disease by showing the characters taking breaks to take AZT, a drug that can slow the progress of the retrovirus, and attending a health support group. The College Player’s performance resulted in a play both poignant, due to the hardships faced by the characters, and vibrant, due to their zealous personalities. This duality was captured flawlessly by this rendition of “Rent.”
The talent in the ASUSF College Players’ production astounded me. I had prepared myself for somewhat amateur voices struggling to keep up with the play, which is sung for almost it’s entire duration. However, the powerful voices of the actors and the accommodating acoustics of the theatre resulted in a performance that certainly resonated with the audience.
The audience’s eruption of cheer for Angel, played by junior marketing major Blake Gregor, throughout his risqué dance was deafeningly enthusiastic. Gregor’s energy echoed throughout the stage, and the other actors seemed to play off of his exuberance and vitality. The protagonist of the story, Mark Cohen, who captures his friend’s lives on film, was beautifully depicted by sophomore Chemistry major Peter Gernon. Gernon possessed the right amount of spunk and spirit that his character called for, and he even bore a physical resemblance to Anthony Rapp, who played Mark in both the original stage and film version. The reveal of Mark’s ex-love interest, Maureen, failed to disappoint. Junior Theater and English major Haley Heidemann’s larger-than life performance was captivating, and her powerful vocals and unabashed enthusiasm stole the show multiple times. Finally, the equally talented Cecelia Shaw and sophomore English major Cody Stabelfeldt, who portrayed the film’s central love interests, Roger and Mimi, had a chemistry that seemed almost too authentic to be manufactured. Shaw’s vocals were divine; the senior Media Studies major received an uproar of applause after every song. The play can become very hectic at times, with a full cast on stage all engaging in different activities, which resulted in some confusing and chaotic moments; but those are more of a reflection on the play itself rather than the College Player’s portrayal.
Between the two acts of “Rent,” there is a tangible tonal shift, which this rendition captured flawlessly. The time span speeds up, as the first act only covers the course of one week, and the last act is spread out over a year. The first act is high spirited, and focuses on making social commentary and the overall exuberance of the New York’s Bohemian culture. The second act is slightly more introspective, with critical analysis of the character’s relationships, as well as their reactions to a tragedy. The result? An enthralling performance that took the audience on an emotional roller coaster ride and left them with a greater sense of empathy.
Photo Credit: Kristian george/Foghorn