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Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Elden Street Players Rent

By • Aug 4th, 2010 • Category: Reviews
Rent
Elden Street Players
Industrial Strength Theater, Herndon, VA
Through August 21st
2:50, with one intermission
$22/$19 Seniors and Students
Reviewed July 30, 2010

When I was first invited by Elden Street Players Artistic Director Todd Huse to review their production of Rent, I couldn’t help but think, “Oh another one.” This is the fourth production of Rent to go up in the DC area in the past year. I am glad to report that The Elden Street Players have gone against the conventional wisdom by shattering the Broadway tried-and-true mold and created a thoroughly entertaining production.

The performing space at the Industrial Strength Theater gives lots of challenges. Yet Set Designer Kevin King put together a set made up of a two story set, room for the orchestra, multiple entrances and places to perform, the front steps of the apartment building (which also served as the stage for Maureen), and the main stage area was flexible enough to function as everything from the street itself to a restaurant to a hospital. AnnMarie Castrigno’s lighting design was fabulous, emphasizing different areas of the stage, with numerous overlapping pools of light creating many areas for the cast to work. The set painting (Mary Rose Vasko and John Vasko III) was very creative, I assume the Vaskos should get the credit for the effects done with the paint, such as for the Christmas tree.

Judy Whelihan and Susan Devine deserve major kudos for their costuming design decisions. Foremost, Mark did not wear a scarf, except in a moment of fun when Angel passed a scarf around the room at Christmas. Benny’s costume as the up-and-coming businessman felt exactly right, as someone trying to fit into the corporate world, yet a nice suit has never felt quite right to me. Angel’s Santa outfit was designed by Mark Bartyczak and went above and beyond just being a Santa Claus outfit, instead it complemented the actor’s body and was suitable to the character.

Scene changes were done by the cast, and mostly went quite quickly, although a couple seemed to have slight hiccups trying to move everything off stage through the tight doorways. Before the show and during the intermission there were two videos playing. One shared statistics and information about the homeless and AIDS in DC while the other was a timeline of how far things have come since the 1990’s. The videos were quite interesting, I think they may be able to stand alone and should be shared on YouTube (if the rights of the images would allow the video to be shared).

Director Todd Huse has assembled a collection of wonderful actors. Ryan Khatcheressian as Mark Cohen was understated, almost shy, most of the time. He stayed behind his camera for most of the show, only really coming out when he was trying to personally risk something himself, such as dancing the Tango: Maureen with Joanne (Rikki Howie, who was wonderful throughout). Mark’s roommate Roger Davis was played by Michael Reid. Reid’s brooding demeanor worked extremely well, especially in his early scenes with Mimi (Chelsea Reba). The two of them created a tense atmosphere as they slowly opened up to one another.

Benjamin Coffin III was skillfully played by Terry Spann. Benny isn’t a true slimeball, he is trapped by his wife and new life, and Spann made Benny likeable despite his treatment of his friends. Tom Collins (Christopher Prince) and Angel (Mickey Daniel DaGuiso) were another couple that seemed to have a spark in their scenes together. Not to give anything away, but their final scene together was extremely well performed, and done in a very creative manner combining video, a new location, and many extras. Reeny Eul as Maureen gave a very interesting presentation of her song at the protest rally. I was surprised when members of the audience started responding to her.

The ensemble did double duty as the set crew and played multiple roles. When they were homeless, they all were entirely convincing as a group of down on their luck individuals, but when they needed to become a parent, police officer, or some other role, the new role was signficantly different, with body position, posture, facial expressions all changed for each part.

The band, under the direction of J. Michael d’Haviland, performed admirably. Stan Harris’ sound design blended the actors’ voices and the orchestra very well, there were only a very few spots where the music was overpowering or an actor’s mic wasn’t activated correctly.

This production runs for three more weekends. Order your tickets in advance, several nights have already sold out. And with Elden Street’s small theater size, you do not want to take the chance on missing out on a phenomenal production. Be aware that Rent does contain adult language and sitations.

Director’s Notes

When Jonathan Larson, the composer of RENT, died of an undiagnosed heart condition on the morning before the show’s off-Broadway premier (January 996), the show was essentially frozen out of respect for his vision. The off-Broadway (low-budget) set… the costumes picked from the cast’s own closets… and, of course, the script and score have remained unchanged on Broadway since that premier, all of them becoming iconic part of the show and tour for the past 14 years. So, of course, when we started planning our production, the first decision was “Do we do RENT the same way?” Or, do we dare ask the question, “what if Jonathan Larson hadn’t died?” Would the show have continued to evolve? Would the set and designs have changed? Would some of the show’s continuity problems, which were ultimately fixed in the screenplay version, have been corrected as well?

If you have seen RENT before, you may have already realized, based on the set design in front of you, we opted for the road less traveled. Everyone behind this production truly loves the music and story of RENT, but we are hoping that after fourteen years audiences and even “RENT-Heads” are ready for a fresh re-telling of this Pulitzer prize winner.

So much has happened since RENT opened in 1996 that many believe RENT has already become a period piece with regard to the under-lying themes of living with HIV/AIDS and homelessness in New York City. Magic Johnson has been living with HIV since 1991 and a vaccine always seems to be “getting closer.” Disney invaded Broadway and transformed Times Square. The East Village and Alphabet City neighborhoods of Manhattan have been transformed from the “Bohemian days” of the late ’80s into trendy addresses for the likes of Madonna. All that, plus September 11th. Indeed NYC has changed drastically

But have the show’s themes really changed that much? While AIDS may not be the headline disease it was, major headline stories of the past twelve months have revolved around the swine flu scare and healthcare reforms. And, while homelessness may be less noticeable in NYC and DC than it used to be, it certainly hasn’t gone away. In fact, for the past two years our nation has been “recovering” from the effects of millions of families losing their homes. A “Mortgage Crisis” seems so much easier to swallow and fix than accepting the ugly realities of “homelessness” being on the rise again across the country.

RENT may be set in the early ’90s, as in our production, but the issues of healthcare and homelessness seem to be just as relevant in 2010 as thy were then. To that end, we have chosen to bring those themes in how we present the story. We realize that many hard core “RENT-heads” may prefer the classic staging, but we are hoping fans of Elden Street Players’ productions were expecting us to make bold choices when trying to squeeze a musical like RENT into our tiny black box space. If nothing else, it will make for very interesting post-show conversation as you decide if we succeed.

-Todd C. Huse

Photo Gallery

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Photos by Traci J. Brooks for the Elden Street Players.

Cast

  • Roger Davis: Michael Reid
  • Mark Cohen: Ryan Khatcheressian
  • Tom Collins: Christopher Prince
  • Benjamin Coffin III: Terry Spann
  • Joanne Jeffrson: Richelle “Rikk” Howie
  • Angel Dumott Schunard: Mickey Daniel DaGuiso
  • Mimi Marquez: Chelsea Reba
  • Maureen Johnson: Reeny Eul
  • Ensemble: Roberto Rivera Arnez, Darren Byrdie, Ra’Shawn Durell, Emily Grant, Becca Harney, Glen Hochkeppel, Jade Jones, Rafael Medina, Melissa Romano, Ashley Rowe, Joshua Scott

The Band

  • Music Direction, Keyboard II: J. Michael d’Haviland
  • Assistant Music Direction, Keyboard I: Scott Richards
  • Keyboard II/ Guitar II: Willis Rosenfeld
  • Guitar I: Rick Peralta
  • Bass: Adam Neely
  • Drums: Jim Hofmann

Crew

  • Director: Todd C. Huse
  • Producer: Rich Klare
  • Music Direction: John Michael d’Haviland
  • Assist. Music Direction: Scott Richards
  • Choreography: Lorraine Magee
  • Stage Manager: Angie Anderson
  • Asst. Stage Managers: Jessica Carrington, Eliza Wolfe
  • Running Crew: Nicole Carrington
  • Set Design: Kevin King
  • Technical Director: Marty Sullivan
  • Master Carpenter: Marty Sullivan, Bill Behan
  • Set Construction: Theresa Bender, Jeff Boatright, Vinnie Demafeliz, Skip Gresko, Richard Durkin, John Vasko, Fred Huse, Todd Huse, Mike Schlabach, Ian Drown, Phil Archey, Evan Hoffman, Jill Tunick, Robin Zerbe, Josh Young, Ryan Dunne, Angie Anderson, Eliza Wolfe, Emily Grant
  • Set Painting Design: Mary Rose Vasko, John Vasko III
  • Assisted by: Jeannette Torres, John Vasko Jr, Hossanah Malubay
  • Lighting Design: AnneMarie Castrigno
  • Master Electrician: Tom Epps
  • Sound Design: Stan Harris
  • Costume Design: Judy Whelihan, Susan Devine
  • Angel’s Santa Dress Designed by: Mark Bartyzack
  • Properties & Set Dressing Design: Theresa Bender, Eliza Wolfe
  • Special Effects: Multimedia/Film Design: John Henry Boes
  • Hair/Make Up Design: Laura Fontaine
  • Assisted by: Amey Rasmeloungon
  • Lights/Sound/Video Board operators: Tony Aiello, Jeff Boatright, John Bordeaux, Vinnie Demafeliz, Tom Epps, Peter Halverson, Stan Harris, Christine Nolan, Leslie Peterson
  • House Management: Dave Sinclair
  • Box Office Management: Melody Fetske
  • Publicity: Richard Klare, Todd Huse, Ginger Kohles
  • Playbill: Ginger Kohles

Disclaimer: Elden Street Players provided a complimentary media ticket to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/5372.

has performed in local productions, but prefers to be behind the scenes. Mike earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the Online News Association.

2 Responses »

  1. Thanks for your review of ESP’s ‘Rent’. It is a strong production that has the potential to be a top-notch production. I saw the production this past weekend with my wife; I am a recently-relocated music director from NY, who served as the assistant MD for the Broadway production and the MD for a national tour, a few years back. Kudos to the director for the new storytelling and for trying to fix the book’s continuity. I am amazed that using a ‘two-level (tier) set’ didn’t catch on sooner. It is quite effective. However, some of the acting choices didn’t help me BELIEVE that these couples, were ‘real’ couples. In cases of Angel and Joanne–both actors were motivated and connected to the actions of their characters. Their counterparts, however, were not. We didn’t believe Collins to be carefree, loving or wise. He seemed aloof and affected. Maureen faired no better. (I can’t believe no one on the artistic team, especially the MD, didn’t bother to fix the lyrics to “Over The Moon” which many are completely wrong.) And speaking of music, there are errant harmonies in the Roger/Mimi scenes and the Roger/Mark, “What You Own”. For a show that EVERYONE has been singing since 1996. there is no excuse for errant lyrics/notes–especially for a theater of this high-caliber. The ensemble members are mostly strong, although many are not committed to the ‘action’ on stage or committed to blending their voices. Individual voices blaringly stick out in “Christmas Bells” and “Santa Fe”. Despite these issues, the production remains solid–the band, the lights and the sound are all Broadway-caliber. Why not be an amazing production? Elden Street is so close. The production is, by far, the closest to the Broadway production, in energy, concept and sound than two recent productions of “Rent” in Kensington, Maryland and DC. That is saying a lot. Again, thanks for your astute review! Great reviewers are essential to survival of this American art form. Thanks for what you do.

    Anderson

  2. This Anderson guy seems highly suspect. The name is ungoogle-able. And why would the Broadway production assistant MD see the same show 3 times within 7 months in the DC area? Highly suspect, zz!