After thoroughly enjoying the shameless perversity of Kokandy Productions’s Cruel Intentions, under Adrian Abel Azevedo’s direction, I found Azevedo’s Rent at Porchlight to bring a stark, often heart-wrenching dose of relevance to his now-known talent for embodying nostalgia. Musicals can be tough when you have the cast recording memorized, but this production of the late Jonathan Larson’s Tony- and Pulitzer-winning musical won me over, thanks to its capable cast, memorable set, and impressive ability to be both of the early 90s and jarringly present. The stage is literally a giant VHS tape on which live video of the actors is occasionally projected. (Ann Davis designed the set.) This theme of documentation, memory, and capturing moments in tragic times strikes the nerve we felt in the not-so-distant early days of COVID, as well as the current discourse around monkeypox, which has been disproportionately harmful (both physically and ideologically) to the LGBTQ+ community.
Rent Through 12/11: Thu 7:30 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 3:30 and 8 PM, Sun 2 PM; also Thu 11/10 10:30 AM, Thu 11/17 1:30 PM, and Fri 11/25 3:30 PM; open captions Sat 11/19 and 11/26 3:30 PM; Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn, 773-777-9884, porchlightmusictheatre.org, $45-$79
Yet Rent is so much more than a snapshot in time of the devastating HIV/AIDS crisis. From Angel and Tom Collins (Eric Lewis) to Mimi (Alix Rhode) and Maureen, Rent portrays queer relationships with joy and complexity, celebrating how unique, though ultimately similar, our soulmate connections truly are. This cast nails the ensemble moments, from the vulnerability of “Will I?” to the radical energy of “La Vie Boheme.” Josh Pablo Szabo is an electric Angel, commanding the stage in life and channeling the cast’s collective passion in passing. Lucy Godínez makes a strong case for Maureen’s performance art to be its own, separate production. Finally, David Moreland as Mark and Shraga D. Wasserman as Roger give the best-friend energy that helps land the plane on hope for the future.