Last week I saw a production of the Tony-winning musical RENT, at Seattle's Fifth Avenue Theater. It was a good production, slightly made-over from the 1980's version, with terrific actors. Some of the music is appealing, especially "Seasons of Love."
However, the rock opera left me unsatisfied. My three companions didn't share my reasons, so maybe it's just me. I suspect, however, that since individual experience strongly affects one's reaction to art, and I am just too old for RENT.
Based on the nineteenth-century opera LA BOHEME, RENT concerns a bunch of would-be artists living in the East Village. In LA BOHEME some of them were dying of consumption; in RENT, it's AIDS. There is an on-stage death scene which is moving, as one character loses his drag-queen lover. My problem was not with any of that, but with the underlying assumptions about the Bohemian life: it's much better than any stodgy bourgeois existence; it produces "real" artists because earning money corrupts people; the young artists are all superior to their frantic parents, who phone them from concern that the kids are all right; artists have the right to occupy their lofts without paying the landlords any rent because, well, they're artists.
None of this seems true to me. Worse, it seems affected, exploitative, and even pathetic. Many artists have produced wonderful work while living bourgeois lives. Some even went on producing after they'd made money. Landlords have taxes to pay on their buildings and children to feed. Not everyone who works in, or even is, a corporation is despicable. And parents deserve a break in their anxiety for their kids, in the form of a few phone calls now and then.
So I left the theater cranky. And definitely too old for this show. I wanted to say to everyone on stage: Just pay your damn rent!