On Father's Day, a group of my friends and myself went to Broadway to watch Rent. The noticeable absence from the group was my parents -- I am not out to them and would not have been comfortable watching it in their presence. My friends and I had the rainbow represented well. In the group was me and a gay boy -- all others were hetero, but I digress.
We had the nosebleed seats. Absolute last row. I could have cared less, and waited with eager anticipation as the actors assembled.
For those who are not familiar with Rent, 4 of the major characters are gay. Maureen and Joanne are the lesbians. Maureen used to date Mark, the narrator. The other 2 gay characters are Angel, a drag queen, and Collins. Both of them have AIDS, and during the course of the play Angel dies.
Interestingly enough, on Broadway, all of the gay characters are played by straight people, while Mark, who is the only character who is single, straight, and not HIV positive, is played by Anthony Rapp, a gay man. Cosmic irony...
One of the biggest things that struck me was how the gay relationships were portrayed. Although Maureen and Joanne don't have an ideal relationship by anyone's standards, Angel and Collins' brief, intense love is the most positive and touching in the whole play. I cheered on Angel from the moment he appeared on stage, fell in love with the character wholeheartedly when he first walked onstage in drag (which, by the way, he looks very good in) and cried at his death. Watching him and Collins onstage kissing gave me hope.
Maureen and Joanne are a bit different. Their relationship is a bit rocky -- Maureen is a flirt and cheats a lot. Their love ultimately endures, though. In the original version of the play, Maureen and Mark were supposed to get back together in the end. I cannot tell how happy it makes me that they changed that part. Another thing about Maureen -- she is just a wee bit seductive... my jaw hit the floor on one particular scene where she walked out dressed completely in leather. During their fight scene "Take me or leave me" I asked my best friend, who was sitting next to me, if she thought that I would ever be in a relationship like theirs. Her reply was that I probably wouldn't be the one in leather.
I think that having Maureen and Joanne played as they are helps add another touch of realism to Rent. Even though the whole bohemian spirit is a bit exaggerated, the play rings true and helps shatter myths and stereotypes. Which brings me to another subject -- AIDS.
The threat of AIDS is constantly haunting everyone in Rent. Angel and Collins have it. So do Roger and Mimi, the other main characters. In fact, Roger's being positive is what drives him to deny his love for Mimi -- he can't bring himself to tell her, and then learns how to love again when he finds out she also has AIDS. One of the most touching scenes is called "Life Support." It's a meeting for people with AIDS. At the beginning of this scene 7 or so supporting characters with multiple roles introduce themselves. When I was watching the play, I noticed that some of the names they said were different from the ones used in the soundtrack. I found out later that they change every night. The names used are ones of friends of the company that have died from AIDS. Every night, different ones are honored.
Watching Rent was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It had a tremendous impact on me, not only as a lesbian, but as a person. It was an indescribable experience; one that I hope all of you will be able to go through.
Oasis editor Jeff Walsh would love to hear your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org