Theater Review: RENT (Couerage Ensemble)

Post image for Theater Review: RENT (Couerage Ensemble)

by Tony Frankel on November 18, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles

A YEAR IN THE LIFE

Jonathan Larson’s Rent is in a musical theater empyrean; indeed, productions are as ubiquitous as the stars in the firmament. The show is about a year in the life of bohemian artists struggling to survive, and if that sounds familiar, Larson based his 1997 work on Puccini’s opera La Bohème, which contrasts lavish life with poverty and homelessness. In La Bohème, tuberculosis is rife, in Rent, it’s HIV and AIDS in New York during the AIDS epidemic.

EDDIE VONA, CARLOS PADILLA JR.
ELLIE AVILEZ, CARLOS PADILLA JR.

Struggling filmmaker Mark (EDDIE VONA) decides to document the struggle he and his roommate Roger (CARLOS PADILLA JR.) go through to produce art in a crumbling tenement apartment in the the lower east side. His film captures much more than he bargained for, encapsulating the besieged artistic community coming to grips with not just AIDS but drug addiction and self-expression. While the story is told through Roger’s lens, Rent is a true ensemble show. Perhaps that is why people come back to see it again and again. The score itself is not perfect and could have use some tweaking, which it surely would have received had not Jonathan Larsen suddenly died on the preview’s opening night.

MITCHELL JOHNSON, RICKY ABILEZ

At the Shakespeare Center of L.A., Couerage Ensemble lives up to its new name with an emotionally involving, immersive, in-the-round production which had the audience on rolling chairs in the middle of the players. I found myself being able to focus on a single character and see something different about the role each actor brings to it. And this cast had some breakout stars in it. The flip side is that this staging — unless it was near you — made sightlines pretty awful — I actually at times had to stand up to see what was happening on one of KIRK WILSON‘s many wonderful set pieces (a park, a cafe, etc.). That said, AZRA KING-ABADI‘s imaginative and highly detailed lighting made an incredible use of the open space, and director REENA DUTT created some stirring stage pictures.

GRAHAM KURTZ
Front: Graham Kurtz, Sofia Bragar, Ricky Abilez, Mitchell Johnson, Sean Cruz
Back: Nicole Monet, Eddie Vona, Carrie Madsen, John "Rusty" Proctor

The powerhouse ensemble pieces played like gangbusters: “Support Group” (with an affecting GRAHAM KURTZ) “La Vie Boheme,” and the incomparable “Seasons of Love,” which still pulls on the heartstrings and makes arm hairs rise even after multiple viewings of the show. I must single out RICKY ABILEZ‘s portrayal of Angel: Positively luminescent and astoundingly unforced, Abilez truly inhabits a drag queen whose giving spirit is the heart and soul of the show. And Roger’s ex-girlfriend Maureen is played with such vivacity and character by SHANELLE DARLENE that I thought she would affirmatively suck in a fellow performer like a Hoover when she kissed them. Oh, to be a critic on those lips! Also her “Over the Moon” performance piece was one of the funniest I’ve ever seen.

EDDIE VONA, RICKY ABILEZ, MITCHELL JOHNSON
NICOLE LEDOUX, SHANELLE DARLENE 

Music Director REBECCA GRAUL (also on piano) had the entire score full, thriving, and filling the room. While I may have been mistaken to sit near the tiny combo band, the accompaniment was still too loud, so we lost a good third of the words. Lyrics, lyrics, lyrics, folks. Overall, this was a very inventive production of Rent that runneth over with love.

photos by JOHN KLOPPING

Rent
Coeurage Ensemble
ends on November 19, 2022
Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, 1238 West 1st Street
for tickets (Pay What You Want), call (323) 576-8913 or visit Coeurage Ensemble

Comments on this entry are closed.