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Theatre Review | Drama department production of ‘RENT’ opens tonight

Published: Thursday, February 13, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 13, 2014 03:02


Ted Simpson / Courtesy Tufts Drama Department

“Take me out tonight!” character Mimi Marquez sings during an iconic moment in “RENT.” Mimi and her song are full of life, energy and possibility. Tonight, many students may feel the same as they head to Balch Arena Theater for what promises to be a packed opening night of “RENT,” the Department of Drama’s winter production. The much anticipated show already broke records at Tufts, selling out only one day after tickets went on sale.

Written by Jonathan Larson and first performed in 1994, “RENT” tells the story of a tight-knit group of friends and artists living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Characters in the musical deal with AIDS and drug abuse, but also experience love, loss, joy and community.

Barbara Wallace Grossman, a professor of drama and the director of “RENT,” believes that the show’s somewhat dark subject matter remains central in today’s popular culture, making a production of “RENT” pertinent to Tufts students today.

“We are still dealing, almost 20 years ... after [the] premiere [of ‘RENT’], with the issues that the play highlights,” Grossman said. These topics, she explained, range broadly from the treatment of diseases like HIV/AIDS to issues surrounding LGBT rights, as well as hunger, homelessness and vast economic disparity. Grossman also noted that reported spikes in heroin use today make the issue of drug addiction — central to “RENT” — particularly relevant.

“When you see characters in ‘RENT’ shaking packets of drugs — I mean, there was a picture in the [New York] Times [recently] of those packets of drugs,” Grossman said. “So for all of those reasons, I feel that the play speaks to audiences today.”

Yet for all its ties to the original production, Daniel Pickar, a junior, feels that the Tufts production of “RENT” has something unique to offer. Pickar, who plays Mark, explained that as an actor, he has worked hard to distinguish the Tufts rendition of “RENT” from other versions that audience members may have seen.

“People have an idea of Mark,” Pickar said. “I’m sure [audience members] have seen the Broadway show or the [the 2005 film], and people think of Mark with glasses and a scarf on. The hardest part was to try and make Mark original and not draw so much on the Broadway Mark or the movie Mark.” Pickar also shared that the cast experience has been very positive.

“It’s fun to make it your own,” he said.

Still, putting on a show like “RENT” is not without its challenges. As a rock opera, the bulk of the musical is communicated primarily through song — though pieces of several scenes are spoken — an aspect that makes the show particularly tricky to perform. Because the show is particularly vocally demanding, it was ultimately decided that no additional performances would be added despite the show’s sold-out status.

The staging of the production has been another challenge; part of the set requires that the third section of Balch Arena be closed off to audience seating. But those involved with the production are excited about the technical aspects. Live music and a moving garage door are just a few of the interactive elements “RENT” boasts.

“It’s going to be like a rock concert,” stage manager Colin Burnett, a sophomore, said. “We’re going to have moving lights, we’re going to have flashing sound, everything. It’s going to be great.”

Finally, in a nod to the socially conscious nature of the show, members of the cast and crew are hosting a food drive to benefit The Greater Boston Food Bank. From Feb. 4 to 24, students can bring non-perishable food items to the show. Seated tickets are sold out for all performances, but standing room tickets are being sold the day of each performance and can be picked up at the Aidekman box office.

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