The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Lafayette presents: Rent

By Julia Ben-Asher

Photo by Steve Tringali/ The Lafayette


In listening to snippets of lyrics, or judging from a few glances toward the stage, Rent might present itself as a play about AIDS, heroin and impending homelessness, which, at an upscale and famously preppy college campus might seem distant to the Lafayette audience.

But the Rent shown at Williams Center for the Arts is a story about learning to fight through even the most difficult of times, and when you can’t, of learning how to cope, which every audience member can relate to some degree.

Whether an audience member is old or young (maybe not too young), the palest white or the blackest black, whether her (or his) hair dye is a housewife blonde or electric pink, each person crowded into Williams Center undeniably feels connected to many of the matters looming both on stage and throughout the house seats.

During the genuinely portrayed love songs, the audience felt its own collective heart break. At the unstoppable slipping death of a beloved character by all, goose bumps raised on the audience’s collective arms and actual chills prickled down the collective spine.

Eyes leaked and teeth shone in smiles in the dark theater. Many found it truly difficult not to dance in their seats, and the humming along during the most well-known and commercialized songs.

A grungy-looking group of kids stands out anywhere on Lafayette’s campus. But when these 90’s-throwbacks are also plastered in fake tattoos, are covertly buying suspicious-looking bags of powder and are occasionally experiencing a dramatic death, or near-death, the college looks on.

Not only do they look on — they buy tickets and tell their friends to do the same, causing two of the four nights to be sold out before the show’s run even begins.

At a small liberal arts college where — while a theater major is available, learning of the existence of said theater major leaves many students shocked — an audience cannot expect a Broadway performance matching those that earned the original musical four Tony Awards in 1996 and the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

After seeing Lafayette’s rendition, though, it’s really not as far off from the major bread-winning performances as one might expect.

There were, of course, the barely noticeable errors that a two-month educational theater production is sure to display, but besides a few awkwardly timed lines, a jerky dance step or two and a few microphone adjustments, a tremendous performance overtook the theater.

Writer and lyricist Jonathan Larson’s carefully crafted characters seem to be almost more real than either of the two audience members sitting next to you.

Maureen (Dana Pardini ‘12) is one of the most abrasive and outrageous characters you’ll ever meet, while her on-again-off-again partner, Joanne (Juliet Lodi ‘12), is her uptight, making-lists-in-her-sleep opposite — everyone remembers the mother of a childhood friend fitting both descriptions.

Roger (Eric Mortensen ‘12) is a cool guy who can’t seem to shake himself from his past, despite the wild and lost Mimi’s (Amanda Scherb ‘13) constant presence, whether literally or in Roger’s head.

Benny (Rich Albertini ‘13) is such a convincing jerk on the stage that it’s surprising when the actor who plays him is pleasant and friendly. Angel (Nathaniel Kelley ‘12) is ridiculously warm and outgoing to all: a drag queen with the biggest sense of style and heart in Alphabet City, complimenting her boyfriend Collins’ (Patrick Grundy ‘15) calm, but perky, understatements.

And Mark. Mark (Brett Billings ‘12), the boy from Scarsdale, who grew up attending Bar Mitzvahs and having food wiped off of his face by Mom, now determined to be independent, is always watching, capturing the scene on the video camera through which he constantly squints, discovering.

The music, ranging from rock to tango to reggae, stuck in the audience’s heads is not a background for the story, but a means to communicate the story. From one Christmas Eve to the next, we follow a group of young people through their lives, finding what it means to fully live for every one of the 525,600 minutes in a year.

Rent is directed and choreographed by Assistant Professor of Theater and English Mary Jo Lodge and features a cast of 25 students onstage. Tickets for tonight and tomorrow’s shows, beginning at 8 p.m. in the Williams Center for the Arts, are sold out, but standby seating is available.

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