Sometimes, a couple of really fine performances in supporting parts can make up for a stale script and the lack of heat between those cast in the starring roles. And once in while, community or college actors so inhabit the characters they portray that they lift a mediocre production into the stratosphere.
That is exactly what happens in Some Theatre Company’s ambitious and somewhat successful production of Jonathan Larson’s rock musical “Rent,” running through Sunday at the Keith Anderson Community House in Orono. “Rent,” a retelling of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Boheme,” is set in New York City’s East Village in 1989.
Mason Peterson and Chad Moores as lovers Angel Dumont Shunnard and Tom Collins give multi-layered and nuanced performances worthy of seasoned professionals. Peterson and Moores provide the only real passion in this production and its heat rushes off the stage and over the audience like a blast of hot August air.
As the drag queen stricken with AIDS, Peterson gives a provocative and evocative performance. He so inhabits the role that theatergoers weep when Angel dies in Tom’s arms, not just for the loss of the character but for the loss of Peterson’s charismatic presence on stage as well.
Moores is equally compelling as the computer geek who gets little time with his soulmate because of the disease that is decimating the gay community. While other characters fight and fume and manipulate each other, Moore’s Tom embraces and accepts Angel in and out of heels.
Although the song, “Tango,” is performed by three other characters, that complicated dance best describes Moores’ time on stage with Peterson. It is impossible to untangle their performances because they are perfectly in step with each other.
The rest of the cast give adequate performances but can’t match the intensity and heat that Peterson and Moores create. Jak Peters and Bailey Sechrist as star-crossed lovers Roger Davis and Mimi Marquez have no spark and seem wholly unsuited for each other. Each works hard at giving a heartfelt performance but neither seems to know who these characters really are or what they see in each other.
Logan Bard as Mark Cohen is more grounded as the hub the other characters all seem to gather around. He gives a straightforward performance but doesn’t consistently illuminate Mark’s mercurial nature.
Jillian Sarnacki Wood as Joanne Jefferson and Ken Lozier as Benjamin Coffin III portray the show’s only real grownups. Wood is especially effective as the upscale lawyer looking for love in a low rent neighborhood. She gives a layered and believable performance.
Lozier infuses Benny with more of a conscience than most other actors have given the landlord. At times, Lozier is the only character in the show visibly struggling to be a responsible citizen and a freewheeling artist.
Director Elaine Bard has successfully built tight ensembles in smaller musicals including “Carrie the Musical” and “Next to Normal.” While the cast may have been headed in that direction, it wasn’t there yet at Sunday’s sold-out matinee. There were a lot of individuals onstage successfully hitting their marks but they were not working together like the well-oiled theatrical machine that has become one of Bard’ hallmarks as a director.
On top of that, “Rent” isn’t aging well. Like “Hair,” the musical is so time and place specific that its music and message both sound and feel archaic now. As millions of baby boomers try to outfox the stock market, the central message of “let’s live for the moment” falls flat.
The technical aspects of the production, including Gerry Bard’s set and Erryn Bard’s lighting design, creatively pushes the capacity of the space, making it seem bigger than it is. Jason Wilkes musical direction uses the actors’ voices, especially the chorus of the Bohemians, to great effect and impact.
This show shoots for but slightly misses the high bar Elaine Bard has set for Some Theatre Company. If it weren’t for the incredibly fine performances of Peterson and Moores, “Rent” would have missed it by a mile.
“Rent” runs through Sunday at the Keith Anderson Community House in Orono. For ticket information, visit Some Theatre Company’s Facebook page.