Gina DePalo knew that directing the play “Rent” meant paying homage to not only some iconic scenes, but also to her 12-year-old self.
DePalo said the images of love, poverty and disease she saw in the 1996 Broadway musical and 2005 film about New York City bohemians fighting for their art and relationships resonated with her as she came of age.
“When you see this group of people that are so in love with their art, that they’re willing to sacrifice everything else to create, that’s a very powerful and lasting image for people when people are discovering themselves and their sexuality,” DePalo said.
During the well-known ensemble song “La Vie Boheme” in “Rent,” the cast gathers together on tables of a restaurant as they sing, dance and scream about their passions and all the things they are living for: “Emotion, devotion, to causing a commotion.”
“I think in that moment, you just feel so passionately connected to the things you feel strongly about,” DePalo said.
Matt Traina, who plays one of the leads, Mark Cohen, said his character is the one left out of this connection. While the other leads couple off and find support as their lives spiral deeper into misery, Cohen is left alone with his camera, detached from the world behind a lens.
“Mark is really, when it comes down to it, alone. Although he comes off as this person who doesn’t seem to have too many huge problems,” Traina said. “He doesn’t have AIDS like some other characters do and he doesn’t have relationship problems. But that’s the thing—he’s alone.”
Traina said this loneliness also ties into the backstory of the original production of “Rent,” whose creator, Jonathan Larson, died before he saw it performed on stage.
For his solo “Halloween,” Mark is alone at a funeral, singing out his confusion, contemplating the past. “Why am I the witness?” he sings. “And when I capture it on film will it mean that it’s the end and I’m alone?”
“I think the show principally is about a sense of community, a sense of belonging,” DePalo said. “And I think that it doesn’t have to still be 1989. It doesn’t have to be in the village of Manhattan. It can be any place anytime, and the desire to feel like you belong is still relevant.”
DePalo has seen the excitement spread across campus from presale tickets selling out on the second day within minutes – the first time she’s ever see that happen.
DePalo said the excitement is refreshing for student theatre because many are used to seeing the same small group of faces at every show.
“It’s just a show that people are desperate to see,” DePalo said. “That’s what’s so cool about ‘Rent.’ You don’t have to like theatre to like ‘Rent.’”
“Rent” will be performed at West Hall’s Blackbox Theatre Thursday at 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tickets are $5, cash or GWorld, available for purchase day-of for each performance. There are 20-35 seats available.