Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rent Scenarios

This post will be a bit different from my usual reviews and complaints. If you're not interested in Rent and what-if scenarios, skip this one! This is just my little analysis on some aspects of the show. Will contain spoilers.

Ever since I saw Rent in Alexander Theatre two weeks ago, I've been wondering: what's wrong with Rent's plot, actually? I like many shows that lack something when it comes to the story, shows that have a silly plot, shows that hardly have a plot at all. Why does Rent, with its story about love, annoy me so much?

Well, something about the naivete of the whole thing bugs me. As I've mentioned previously, I think the show gets better if the production kills Mimi in the end. I've had the luck of seeing a production that made that choice once, and it improved the whole thing. The no day but today message – that's usually chanted for two hours straight but doesn't really mean anything since returning from the dead is apparently possible – gained an actual meaning for once.

But I guess that's not all that could be fixed.
I wonder if Rent would be better if either Roger or Collins didn't have HIV/AIDS.

Petrus Kähkönen as Roger in Suomen Musiikkiteatteriensemble's production.

Let's discuss Roger first.
He has a song – one of the best musical songs of all times, if you ask me – about how the disease has destroyed his dreams. He has a scenes with other characters where they discuss his illness. He takes his medicine, he has that little moment when he sings along the Life Support group...
But still, not once have I felt he's really suffering from something severe and incurable.

Maybe this has to do with people responsible for the productions I've seen. Maybe they didn't know how to make it work. But a part of it, I think, lies within the script. It never shows him suffering. It's Mimi who's getting pale and thin, Roger's still healthy. Even though that's completely possible when it comes to real HIV-posive people, it's not very effective in a story.
The song Another Day is problematic. What does Roger mean by it? I'm under the impression that Roger pushes Mimi away because of his HIV, since he doesn't know she has it too. Maybe he's afraid of relationships and doesn't want that Mimi destroys him inside like April did. But he also doesn't want Mimi to get the disease, he doesn't want that Mimi breaks her heart when he dies. Or that's how I see it.
So, how does an another day fit to this? With an incurable disease, there won't be a day when those things aren't relevant anymore. Is Roger lying to himself and trying to assure himself that his nightmare will end one day? Or is this just bad thinking on the composer's part?

One thing would be changing the plot so Roger's disease is more visible. But what would happen if he didn't have it at all?

It'd add a whole new layer of problems to the plot, which could be interesting. How could Roger and Mimi be together if only one of them had a sexually transmitted, fatal disease? It's a difficult scenario, but it could add some realism to the show.
It should be noted Mimi already doesn't care. In her song Out Tonight, she tries to seduce Roger, unaware of him having the disease too. The show doesn't bluntly state Mimi's goal is to sleep with Roger, but one could pretty easily interpret the scene like that. What's more, dating an HIV-positive person course doesn't mean you'll automatically become HIV-positive yourself. Copypasting from Condoms are not 100% safe, but if used properly, will reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. The audience knows this, and maybe the characters also do: Benny isn't HIV-positive (or at least it's not mentioned) but the show still implies he and Mimi have been together. It's almost as if the show doesn't care either...
If Roger didn't have the illness, it'd add an element of but-what-if-he-gets-it-too to his relationship with Mimi – would that make it unrealistic? Or more interesting?

In short, I feel it could be more realistic and closer to the source material (Puccini's La bohème) to have Roger not have HIV. It'd add more reason to him avoiding Mimi during the course of the show. He knows she will, eventually, break his heart like April did, he's afraid he will catch the disease too... It'd make Roger's selfishness more real and his motivations clearer.

Of course, curing Roger would change his character, and that's quite problematic.
It might be I've never felt he's dying, but that's still important in the script. One Song Glory, Another Day... You'd need a new way to justify these songs. Maybe only April got the disease, and her death alone impacted him so much he became severely depressed and started shielding himself from the world? That might justify Another Day but doesn't work with One Song Glory. I don't know if I'd be okay with my favourite song being removed from the show, even if it was for the greater good...
More importantly, the show would need a new way to get Mimi and Roger together, to show their love is stronger than his fear of the disease. Might add to the naivete part of things.

Maybe the disease is too important to Roger's character to have him cured.

Jyri Numminen as Angel and Mikael Haavisto as Collins
in Suomen Musiikkiteatteriensemble's production.
But let's not forget Collins.

Collins and Angel are a bit more minor characters. Both get solos, but where One Song Glory, Out Tonight, Another Day and other Mimi and Roger songs tell about their feelings and characters, Collins's and Angel's songs are a bit more vague. We don't know as much about their lives, other than what they feel for each other. Therefore, with them, maybe it wouldn't be necessary to go too deep into the what-if-he-gets-it-too element of the thing. That's their problem, our problem is Collins's pain when he loses Angel. Besides, do we ever worry about Rodolfo from La bohème or Christian from Moulin Rouge! catching tuberculosis, even though they're very likely to?
In a nutshell, I feel Collins's disease is nothing more than a plot device to remove the problems of him and Angel getting together. He refers to having it once, and that's the end of that. Unlike Roger, curing Collins wouldn't change his character.

I think making Collins HIV-negative would make his and Angel's story even more effective. Now, when they enter each other's lives, either of them could die first. Basically, just like any other relationship, though dying is closer to them than average young couples. Making Collins healthy would mean he knows Angel will die first, and soon. Unlike Roger, who would be afraid for his own safety and his own heart, Collins would go into the relationship nevertheless. Sugary and romantic, sure, but it'd also add a heartbreaking undertone to their story from the first minute. Even though theirs is the happiest of them all in the whole show.
Seriously, why isn't this a thing?

Do you have any thoughts about these scenarios? I'm curious to hear other opinions!

Photos from Suomen Musiikkiteatteriensemble ry's production.


  1. I don't remember Rent very well (only seen the movie), but from a narrative point of view your points sound good. What bugs me in Rent is the checklist-type of handling with various problems 90s hippies in NYC had, and your solution of less focus on checklisting and more focus on interpersonal relationships sounds worth trying.

    1. Thanks!
      I've never thought about Rent as a checklist of anything, it annoys me for other reasons – but thinking about it, I think you might have a point too... :D

  2. I guess it's my cynicism, I shouldn't watch let's-make-the-world-better-and-fail shows like Rent. :-P

    Btw, in case you don't know of the website:

  3. The only experience I have with Rent was watching the movie whenever it came out years ago. I was very excited to see it, because a guy at my high school had sung "One Song Glory" at our pop concert and he was so good and the song just stuck with me. I knew nothing of Rent and did not try to find out about it and I had no idea what the song was about, I just liked it.

    But I ended up not liking the story. I like a lot of the music, actually, and I have the soundtrack from the movie as well as a cast recording. But the story just really kind of... ruins it for me, I think. To me, it just feels like a bunch of adults acting like bratty kids. I'm with you. What is so wrong with Benny's plans? It improves the neighborhood and would give Roger and Mark a place to do their work and I just don't get why they are so opposed.

    These are some interesting scenarios. Roger definitely has to retain "One Song Glory." It's such a great song; it just captured me from that time I first heard that kid sing it.

    1. I feel you, so much! I simply love some of the songs, like One Song Glory... But then there's the plot! If the actors are great, I can ignore the silly parts, but that's not always the case...

      So yeah, "a bunch of adults acting like bratty kids" sounds pretty accurate to me. Let Benny have his studio! I'd agree to work there in a heartbeat.

      And btw, for One Song Glory fans, I recomment the Swedish version: – it's my favourite. :)

  4. Rent-binging before Friday and I managed to found your awesome reviews and this great analysis. Lahti's Rent is my number one, even though I fell in love first with the movie. Aleksanterin teatteri's production I skipped completely (even though I would've loved to see Heikki reprise his role) because the promo pics looked horrible to me.

    I really like, if it's okay to say so, the changes they made in Lahti. Maybe it's my love for Moulin Rouge but I don't mind people dying in the end in a dramatic way leaving the men wailing. ;)

    I love Angel and Collins the most and wouldn't mind these changes you suggest. Maybe the changes to Roger would be good too, even though it would suck if they had to remove One Song Glory. Anxiously waiting for Friday and Tampere's production now.