Regional Reviews: St. Louis
It's also sweet and funny and beautiful, under the direction of Scott Miller, despite the fact that this Pulitzer Prize winning play covers one of the darkest times in New York City's history: just as Mayor Giuliani began mysteriously "disappearing" homeless people from the streets, while life-saving drugs for those living with HIV were still more than a year away.
But far from being bleak, the show's panic turns to defiance and desperation to love, for a gang of young artists living in New York with no visible means of support. The results are tender, funny and beautiful.
It almost seems Mr. Miller (as Artistic Director) is choosing his seasons nowadays for sheer emotional complexity, along with New Line's usual focus on strong musicianship. And the results have been enthralling. Rent continues the company's recent trend of bringing stunning characters furiously to life, in all their contradictions. Or maybe I just didn't really notice it until the last couple of years. At any rate, season tickets are starting to look like an extremely good investment.
Jeremy Hyatt and Evan Fornachon are Mark and Roger, roommates in an abandoned, fictionalized version of the old Brill Building. Mark is a piercing observer, armed with a movie camera; and Roger a soulful singer, hoping to write one hit song before he dies. Their big fight near the end is as well acted as it is well written.
I lose count, but at least half the characters are HIV+, including Roger and his girlfriend Mimi (Anna Skidis), and Angel and Tom (gay lovers played affectingly by Luke Steingruby and Marshall Jennings). And here, the staging of Angel's death and his later, other-worldly presence, seems a lot more intuitiveand far more haunting and meaningfulthan in a touring production I saw about 12 years ago.
But it's not all dread and desperation: there are the many beautiful moments, including the majestic "Seasons of Love," "I'll Cover You" (sung by Messrs. Steingruby and Jennings), and "La Vie Boheme," which comes off a lot better here than it did in the 2005 movie.
I hate to leave the comedy for last, but that's just as great a triumph as the darker moments sprinkled throughout. "Tango Maureen" wickedly recounts the perils of loving a performance artist (the hilarious Sarah Porter), as sung by Mr. Hyatt and the outstanding Cody LaShea. The two come together in song to form a rueful pair of Maureen's past and present lovers.
Ms. Porter's "Over The Moon" is bracingly funny, and later she and Ms. LaShea show great emotional variety and intensity in "Take Me or Leave Me." There are a lot of well-done little cameo moments, but I can't go without mentioning Marcy Wiegert, who pops up again and again: she's delightful as Mark's worried mother.
Through March 29, 2014, at the South Campus of Washington University, 6501 Clayton Rd., across from the Esquire Theatre. Parking is on the street, or in the west parking lot of the former CBC prep school. For more information visit www.newlinetheatre.com.
The New Line Band
The Artistic Staff
Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg