Playwright: book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson
At: Possibilities Theatre Company at NorthCenter Town Square, 4100 N. Damen Ave. Tickets: suggested donation $20; www.eventcombo.com/e/rent-43212 or gmail.com (check Possibilities Theatre Facebook page for rain locations). Runs through: Aug. 21
The Romantic Art Movement proliferating in the early 19th century was founded on an epidemic of tuberculosis that would eradicate three-fourths of Europe's population, spurring artists to seek comfort from widespread sorrow and loss by attributing spiritual superiority to peers untimely robbed of the future potential constituting youth's sole fortune. Jonathan Larson's production RENT echoes this preceptbut the contagion stalking the New York City's Lower East Side on the eve of the millennium is AIDS, affliction therewith assuring a slow, but inevitably fatal, decline for rebellious aesthetes embracing lives of poverty and squalor in service of lofty endeavors. With urban renewal encroaching, though, even the most zealous proponents of bohemian glory begin to question the myth of heroic martyrdom.
Given the number of themes weighing down Larson's parable of friends and lovers seizing the day (Did I mention that the story and characters are based on a Puccini opera?), why would anybody attempt to stage it in a city park hardly bigger than a croquet pitch, bereft of sophisticated stagecraft and beset by ambient summertime disruptions: motorcycle traffic, ambulance sirens, headlight beams emanating from the adjacent CVS parking lot, etc.?
Why, indeed. In 2021, do we not, ourselves, continue to be wary of a certain mysterious malady, lest the rumors of its departure prove false? Does not this tiny greensward, occupying a once-neglected fragment of urban landscape, represent precisely the Beauty-Rising-From-Decay principle at the heart of Romanticism? What more appropriate occasion for a play about young artists defying death through the power of love than that adopted by THESE young artists?
To be sure, the aptly named Possibilities Theatre Company, having already demonstrated its audacity by launching its company in the midst of rampant playhouse shutdowns, has chosen an ambitious project to inaugurate its first full production. Two-and-a-half hours of rock-infused melodies dancing effortlessly between climbing-bass runs and intricate minor-key harmonies cannot help but be diminished by a taped orchestra track discouraging variations in tempo, or the spotty amplification resulting from the proximity of the surrounding commercial environment .
The ebullient cast and crew assembled by company Artistic Director Melody DeRogatis, Music Director Anthony Rodriguez, Choreographer Norah Flaherty and Stage Managers Molly Garrison and Natalie Cohen never falter for an instant, however, soldiering through preview-performance glitches with unwavering aplomb, while belting forth Larson's adrenaline-pumping score with a defiant enthusiasm prompting spectators to clap, wolf-howl (on the fiery "Take Me Out") and cheer on their favoritesnotably, Mondisa Monde and Madeleine Barbeau as the lesbian spoken-word duo Joanne and Maureen, and Victor Lopez as drag queen Angel (who makes his final exit in a dazzling, if low-budget, celestial appearance on the roof of the on-site pavilion).