Theater in the Raw
Beloved modern classic Rent at LCC
by Anna Grace
|Photo: Michael Brinkerhoff
Eight artists, 365 days and one disease: Rent is Jonathon Larson’s ’90s reinterpretation of Puccini’s 19th-century opera La Bohème. With a hip score, challenged characters and weighty material, it is a show that consistently inspires its actors. As such it is the perfect choice for LCC’s Student Production Association. With their motto “For Students, by Students,” the passion and intensity of this musical finds a fertile playing field on the LCC main stage (now called Ragozzino Performance Hall).
Jordon Nowotny (Mark) leads the show with heart as our charismatic guide to New York’s Alphabet City. Golden-voiced Gene Chin brings his experience and gravitas to the roll of Tom Collins, grounding the youthful energy that swirls around him. Movingly powerful, Mandy Rose has an intensity of purpose to match her voice. An all-comers ensemble patches in characters and story, nicely featuring several of its members, particularly Devon Freechild as a homeless man lacking in Christmas spirit.
Lending authenticity is the live band. Ably led by Nathan Alef, the band is loud, at times voraciously swallowing the actors and then ebbing back to let them shine. Nestled into the back of the stage, the band looks like a group of NYC musicians who have stumbled upon one another and started jamming.
Also authentic, although less pleasingly so, is the stage itself, which is cramped and oddly laid out like … well, maybe like a cramped and oddly laid out loft in NYC? At best, the set showcases volatile artists struggling to express themselves despite the confines of their space. At its worst, it looks like too many people piled on the stage.
Staging further confuses the mess. It varies from inspired to insipid, and the end result is an audience unsure of where to look. Actions and choreography that in all likelihood were conceived as artistic unfortunately translate into unfocused.
The power of the piece best shines through when director Michael P. Watkins allows his actors to rest. Among the show’s most engaging numbers is “Seasons of Love”, which takes place with the cast simply perched on the edge of the stage, unpretentiously communicating with the audience.
The artists that make up the story of Rent are underfunded, unruly and uncommonly passionate. These words describe the SPA production as well — it’s a messy, energetic creation, more raw than polished, more exciting than elevated. Focusing on the arts at their most human level, this production pulls the truth out of the line, “The opposite of war isn’t peace; it’s creation!”
Rent continues through Oct. 9 at LCC. Tix at lanecc.edu/tickets or at the door.