Review: ‘Rent’ – Diverse sexuality, AIDS and love

| 12/09/2015
Cayman News Service

Rent, performed by the Cayman Drama Society

Nicky Watson writes: The Cayman Drama Society couldn’t possibly have known when they chose to produce Rent back in November exactly how topical one of the main themes of the rock musical would become when it was finally performed. Nevertheless, a show that explores lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) relationships is a bold choice for the Cayman Islands at any time.

Rent, written by Jonathan Larson, opened at the Prospect Playhouse on Thursday 10 September, just as LGBT rights hit the headlines, first with a homophobic speech in the Legislative Assembly by veteran MLA Anthony Eden, and currently as a gay couple, legally married elsewhere, fight to be recognized as being legally married here for immigration purposes.

Speaking to the press after the dress rehearsal last Monday, the cast members insisted the play is, above all, about acceptance and love, which they say Cayman is ready for, and they do not believe that the themes of the show — and sex is just one — will be controversial. None of the characters make a big deal about their sexuality, one actor noted; it’s just a fact.

The plot follows a group of friends in New York over the course of a year and their interwoven relationships. Maureen has just dumped boyfriend Mark for girlfriend Joanne. Tom, a gay man, falls in love with a transvestite, Angel — the most solid relationship in the story, though they both have AIDS. And as for the heterosexual couple, Roger also has AIDS and Mimi is a junkie stripper.

While the diverse sexuality of the lead characters is just one of several themes – some of the others being AIDS (this musical was written and first performed during the height of the AIDS epidemic), homelessness, poverty, love and friendship – it’s without doubt the most controversial right now in the Cayman Islands.

And the CDS cast play up the sexuality of their characters, notably a very raunchy portrayal of bisexual Maureen by Jacoline Frank, a very sexy Mimi played by Sophie Gough, and Billie Bryan in her very first CDS role as the exuberant Angel, whose performance improved notably between dress rehearsal Monday and opening night three days later and will undoubtedly get better as the show goes on.

Beginning and ending on Christmas Eve, the plot has been described as an emotional rollercoaster but it’s more of an overstuffed Christmas stocking of emotion, as the characters deal sometimes with poverty, desperation, anger and depression, sometimes with hope, love, laughter and friendship, sometimes with death, grief and, poignantly, fear of their own death.

But this production, while dealing with depressing subjects, also injects humour wherever possible. The homeless are cold and hungry but also spunky and funny. Frank’s Maureen is  not just flirtatious but outrageously so, while the duet, ”The Tango Maureen”, in which Mark and Joanne compare notes on their relationships with her, is one of the musical highlights of the show, making great use of both the very strong vocal talent of Teri Quappe and the comedic abilities of Rory Mann.

The show benefits hugely from casting David Verhoeven as Roger, a poverty-stricken musician whose previous girlfriend has died from AIDS and who is now contemplating the same fate. Ranging from angry and raw to lyric and tender, Verhoeven’s voice has an impressive emotional range, perfectly suited to play the troubled Roger.

The overall musical direction is in the very capable hands of Chuck and Barrie Quappe, who rewrote the musical score to include a violin and a viola. The musicians play on stage and are part of the set – which is excellent – as well as becoming part of the cast too at various times, which is one of the innovations for this CDS production and works well at the Prospect Playhouse.

All in all, this is very impressive amateur production, and 23-year-old Gough, who as well as playing one of the main characters makes her debut as a director, deserves huge credit for taking on an ambitious project and producing a show that is tight, professional and, despite some of the dark subject matter, a joyful look at life.

Last word: Tom Collins is not only a character, sensitively played by Dominic Wheaton, but also the official drink of the show (with gin or vodka) and is highly recommended.

Rent is rated PG and no one under the age of 12 will be admitted.

The show is playing every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night until 3 October.

See more details and buy tickets here.

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Category: Arts, Performing Arts

Comments (11)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Loved this show. Great cast, very professional.

  2. Anonymous says:

    A very timely show to put on here. Congratulations to all involved, especially Sophie the director. One of the best shows the drama society has produced.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Great Job, guys! Enjoyed every second of this wonderful show.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Please Mr Eden go and see this wonderful show and take home the message of LOVE that it portrays…not the hate that you demonstrated in the LA

  5. Anonymous says:

    An amazing, zany, totally bonkers production. Congratulations.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Different strokes for different folks.

    The annual “Cayman Rundown” is a must for everyone to see.

    Matt Brown is probably one of the best comedians/actors in the Cayman Islands. Ya laugh till ya belly full !!

    • Anonymous says:

      I like the irony of starting a comment saying different people like different things, implying this was not their cup of tea (I doubt the writer saw it), and then saying there was a show everyone should see (presumably because the writer like that). In a nutshell my guess is that this poster does not like art with positive portrayal of gay characters.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes, Rundown is great. What on earth is your point?

      • Anonymous says:

        It was an indirect expression of homophobic prejudice.

        • Room 4 All says:

          Matt Brown and others on the show are indeed very talented and Rundown could be really good if it focused more on the shenanigans of our politicians and didn’t rely so heavily on taking cheesy, out of date, cheap shots at various nationalities.

          Having said that, the show has never targeted the LGBT community (assuming we have such a thing in Cayman……).

    • Anonymous says:

      If you want relatively unchallenging predictable low brow entertainment then Rundown is ideal. It is basically pantomime for adults, although with less irony.