Monday, July 25, 2005

Rent -- we paid too much

Rent is inflated and this time we are not talking about real estate. Sure it has great music and the cast is talented, but the play lacks direction. It started off pretty crazily, but once we had reconciled ourselves to the fact that our ticket-money would not buy us a visual feast on the scale of The Lion King or even Chicago (where most of the cast was in fishnet body stockings) we noticed that the music was really good and we got down with it. But that was all before the intermission. While we hung around the counter and bought thimbles of water/soda/wine at prices normally reserved for airport lounges, we almost convinced ourselves that Rent was the real deal. It was quirky, post-modern and definitely different from the standard musical fare. In particular, the "candle" song was a lively interpretation of the original from Puccini's La Boheme.

We made generous allowance for the fact that it was nine years old and that we were probably too well-fed and yuppie to understand why people with AIDS were falling in tempestous relationships with crack-whores. We even agreed to let the overdone minimalist phonecall motif by without much comment.

So we braced ourselves for a plot that plunged deep into human misery and torment, and waited for the climax. Then the lights came on and we cheered the cast who came in to recieve three encores from a half empty theatre all the while wondering how four of us might have missed the climax simultaneously. My guess is it was lost somewhere in the melee while Angel was dying and turning into Mimi's guardian angel and miraculously reviving her from death in a communal love-fest faintly reminscent of Woodstock '69.

We looked around and most of the folks around us, like us, were puzzled to the very end. Many were relieved that they had seen it and crossed it off their "things to see before I die" lists with gusto. The rest of us tourists decided that we would go back to the rest of the world -- the anti-Manhattan -- and roast it before the movie came out.

Rent's biggest problem is its lack of focus. It never really defines what the primary narrative thread is. The central premise of Rent is that its characters are all brilliant and smart and educated and savvy but they are either gay or dying of the virus and are therefore automatically marginalized and so they have to resort to living out their indie-hip bohemian existence. A lot of the motivations of the characters, all variations on the theme of the recalcitrant refusal to `sell out' to `the Man', seem remote, if not anachronistic, to the distinctly un-Bohemian 21st century audience. Like the Manhattan lofts where the characters squat, the people that Rent talks about have long since been remodelled, repackaged and marketed for millions.