conventions, the deus ex machina.
Why would Jonathan Larson, who wrote the score, lyrics and book for "Rent," seem to cop out at the end? Death's a bummer? Unfortunately, we cannot ask him, because Larson tragically and unexpectedly died on the day that "Rent" opened off-Broadway in 1996. He received posthumously both the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for the musical. For the record, Larson does include the death of another character, possibly thinking he found a way to improve Puccini's story line.
Despite all its hipness and modern relevance, it seems slightly dated today. When was the last time you heard someone refer to "yuppie scum?"
Guthrie's Pollard Theatre presents a well-staged, well-performed reading of "Rent." The mostly youthful cast expends a lot of energy; how much of that energy wafts over the front of the stage into the audience is another matter. Timothy Stewart's direction is clear and effective, abetted by James A. Hughes' schematic, derelict set design, and the production looks appropriately grungy in Michael James' thrift-shop costumes.
Larson's bohemians are as disaffected and impoverished as Puccini's. He has transformed poet Rodolfo into musician Roger, and painter Marcello into filmmaker Mark, who goes around shooting everything on film. Film! How last century.
Philosopher Colline becomes Thomas, who tutors at universities when he's hard up for cash (which he is most of the time), and musician Schunard is Angel, a drag queen with the proverbial heart o' gold.
The putative leads are Roger (Jake DeTommaso) and Mark (Lane Fields "? good to see him on stage again). W. Jerome Stevenson is fine as Thomas, and James Michael Avance is a sweet Angel.
Puccini's Musetta becomes Maureen (Alex Hall), a practitioner of performance art. Larson parodies the type sharply in "Over the Moon," in which Hall has the audience mooing. Don't ask. Musetta's lover is Joanne Jefferson (Stefani Fortney), who is a strange composite character based on both Musetta herself and Puccini's Alcindoro, an admirer of Musetta.
Puccini's bohemians have to deal with cold and hunger, in addition to a lack of artistic success. Larson's bohemians have those issues, too, but they also have to deal with AIDS and drugs. Mimi (Jess Nicolls) says she lives each moment as if it's her last. All of the characters in "Rent" could say the same thing.
Rent stages 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 31 at Pollard Theatre, 120 W. Harrison, Guthrie.