Opinion | Stage Left’s “Rent” reminds us of social issues and reasons to love
Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 01:10
As an active member of Stage Left and a self-proclaimed theatre lover, I felt ashamed as I entered Studio 88 on Thursday night. I had never seen “Rent” before.
Such was taboo to my friends, who were able to mouth the show’s lyrics alongside the cast members and anticipate the appropriate moments for applause. However, my hesitations aside, I settled into my chair, amidst the rubble, fog and graffiti of the blackbox-style theatre and took in the department’s performance. As the show concluded and the house rose to deliver their standing ovation, I could only think: How had I never seen “Rent” before?
Set in the 90s in New York City’s Lower East Side, “Rent” follows an eccentric, dramatic and realistic cast of characters as they navigate through the trials and tribulations of the Big Apple.
Audience members have no choice but to pity, love, hate and adore this charismatic group of players.
We meet Roger, a washed-out musician, stuck on his ex-girlfriend, but entangled in a romantic tryst with Mimi, an erotic dancer, attempting to find a perfect song. We admire Angel, a self-assured drag queen with the world’s largest heart, who meets his match in Collins, a professor with a penchant for helping the poor. We involve ourselves in the relationship between Maureen, a sassy performance artist, and Joanne, an Ivy League lawyer, which seems doomed from the start. And we identify with Mark, a documentarian, hoping to expose the truly poetic reality that resides within the East Village.
Unfortunately, the positivity and spirit of the characters is met with the harsh realities of AIDS, poverty and class conflict. However, the cast’s fight for life and love is strong as though tragedies occur, the show concludes with a triumphant aura of hope.
With the final song drawing to a close, I couldn’t help feeling strangely touched by the performance. Though the musical is set over 20 years ago, the same conflicts still surround us today, whether the average college student is aware of it or not.
Indeed, our campus doesn’t seem very affected by AIDS, but over 1 million United States citizens are currently living with HIV, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Additionally, homelessness and poverty still pervade society, even if such issues seem intangible while inside the bubble of Oxford. Perhaps a prime example of “Rent’s” applicability is that of its exemplification of the “progress” of our urban environments.
Suann Pollock, director of the theatre department’s production of “Rent”, writes in her Director’s note, “In the past 20 years we have seen re-gentrification of our urban landscapes as progress, but what we don’t track is what happens to those people and local businesses that are forced to leave. In Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati, Vine Street has become a thriving center of upscale restaurants, bars, boutiques and high-end loft condos. But what happened to the residents of Over-the-Rhine who were just barely getting by?”
Class conflicts, poverty, drug abuse, disease and disappointment still occur around us. We must take “Rent” as a reminder of such, and interpret it as motivation to serve others and remain well informed.
Of course, what my fellow audience members and I must obtain from “Rent” above all else is the overwhelming love and companionship depicted by the cast. Tied together through conflict and tragedy, a feeling of unity, respect and support envelopes the characters as they stand together to face the world.
As college students, friends and mentors surround us each day, but many are immune to the ower of such a network. We must not take our peers for granted, as they will make up our support system when we will inevitably enter adulthood.
“Rent” is important. I know this not from the raw emotions it depicts or the conflicts it details but from the timelessness of its statement on society. People are different, unique and diverse, but we must unite in the face of setbacks in order to conquer them head-on and move forward with optimism and hope for the future. Only 525,600 minutes make up a year. We can touch so many lives, offer so many helping hands and love so many others with that precious time.