Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Rent Control

In RENT's second-act anthem to hedonism, our point of view character leaps on a table and proclaims, "The opposite of war isn't peace, it's creation!" -- this, in a show where sex results not in pregnancy, but in AIDS.

Perhaps if you are one of the people in life who've always paid the rent no matter what, who've never had the option of figuring that other people will pay the bills, take the responsibility, be the adults, pay the consequences, RENT is more liberating and delightful. I don't know what to tell you, folks. That a show so acclaimed, so popular, so award-winning could be so musically banal, so unintelligible plotwise, so backasswards in message -- having a paying job is literally equated with selling your soul; you can continue to do destructive things that are actually, physically killing you as long as you justify it by saying "No day but today" -- that I wonder if I'm being gaslighted. I feel like I didn't give it a fair shake? Maybe the live production on Fox was so badly done that I missed every good point about this show? Will I find it more compelling if I watch the Broadway production? Does the music make melodic sense if I watch the movie?

Are people so desperate to see representations of their lifestyle on stage and screen that they will grasp at any depiction, no matter how bankrupt? We know how that turns out for Christian art. I would have thought that people in step with the zeitgeist could get a better shake.

I watched RENT with my three oldest daughters, 16, 15, and almost 13. They were unimpressed with the main character's poverty voyeurism, the vicious relationships, the misery of sex work, the leather, latex, masturbation, sodomy, etc. They have a friend whose high school will be putting on RENT this spring. We supposed it didn't matter whether or not the students' parents approved of their children being in the show, as after all, parents are only good for paying the bills, but is it universally accepted by theater professionals that all teens want to do on stage is sing of the triumph of sex? If anyone is possibly uncomfortable with minors on stage celebrating sex and drugs, it's simply because they're prudes, right, and not because there's something inherently dehumanizing about the selfish glorification of pleasure at all costs?

I have long held that the entertainment complex, for all its trumpeting of alternative lifestyles, actually is rather contemptuous is its depiction of gay characters, treating them as caricatures or vehicles for point-scoring. (Religious characters are also treated this way, but no one expects that playwrights or scriptwriters believe that religious people are fully-formed humans.) I think it tells you all you need to know about RENT that Angel, the transvestite character, dies of AIDS whereas Mimi, the heterosexual addicted prostitute, dies but actually comes back to life. Who must die? The transvestite. Who gets a second chance? The straight character. (Angel is also a stand-in for Jesus, whose death is supposed to be transformative for the other characters, but that too is Angel as image, not as person.)

I had heard and disliked Seasons of Love, but now I know why it's the enduring song from Rent -- it's one of the few that actually makes any musical sense. 

Meanwhile, from La Boheme, the inspiration for Rent, Mimi sings about how, even in her poor little white room at the top of a building, the thaw of spring brings her the first kiss of April.

In 150 years, sopranos will still be lining up to sing this, and RENT? It will be a footnote in theater history textbooks.


Sherwood said...

Thanks for taking that bullet.

The snippets of the music I've heard all sound stupid.Sounds like the plot and writing is no better.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Huh. Never even heard of this play. Sorry you've lost those hours out of your life, but perhaps your post has saved others from a similar loss.

(Yeah, seems weird that the high school that your girls' friends attend is putting on a production of this.)

Brandon said...

I wasn't able to see the Fox event, but I once went to a Mass in which a considerable part of the homily consisted of the priest singing parts of songs from RENT and commenting on them. I'm not as against "Seasons of Love" as you (although I lack your musical ear, which could be a reason), but I do rather think that it fails as a homily.

Joseph Moore said...

I refrained from commenting on your original Rent post because I didn't want to influence you, but - yea, right. Seasons of Love I liked well enough, the rest of the music is completely forgettable, and, yes, the plot is, well, evil. The nicest guy is a gay man who dies - along with how many partners infected? We don't know, because we don't go there because?

I had friends when it came out who thought it was so wonderful, and I had to be politic, but, man, if this is what is considered great theater these days, I'll go throw Oklahoma or something in the DVD player and call it good.

Banshee said...

La Boheme works because it considers the good and bad of the characters.

mrsdarwin said...

Brandon, wow, that's pretty inappropriate in Mass! I did go and listen to Seasons of Love all the way through by itself, and it's not terrible, and has some catchy harmonies. I'd posit that last night's performance just didn't do the music any favors (what music deserved the favor, at any rate).

mrsdarwin said...

In the fair shakes department, I did watch about half of the filmed Broadway performance, and I do have to say that although it's not any more morally or adultingly palatable, the stage version is superior musically and dramatically to the mess I watched last night (as well as conveying some crucial plot information that seemed to have slipped through the TV cracks). The NYTimes sums it up well, I think: