End of the day yesterday, we wrapped up the third day of RENT auditions, Round Two. My approach to the piece has become clearer in the hands of the actors. For a show as embraced and as wildly popular as it is, it really gets dark in here when you go to its reality base, the guts of it. The late 80’s, Lower East Side Manhattan…artistic, struggling, broke and young…uncompromising, irreverent, defiant, erotic…finding love for the first time with someone…and coping with the hardship of this raw life of no cash, no meals, no heat creates a kind of austerity that feeds their artistic soul… but their stomachs are running on empty…and I think they’re a bit insane with frustration, desperation, disappointment…the hopelessness and the threat of violence, muggings, murders, suicides…their coping mechanism is living by their wits and laughs, and passion for art…and this love they are realizing for each other…how all the hardship bonds them…the outcast, disenfranchised, not making it, find their own group to hang with…and there find light and warmth in love and friendship and caring…instead of not caring…I am having a time of it, populating this world…it’s not cute.
The more I hear the score, the more it reveals the rare gift of its composer, Jonathan Larson. The influences of Stephen Sondheim, his idol, resonate along with his love of The Who and Billy Joel and Elton John. And to think of Jonathan Larson’s sudden death at 35, aches with a bit more bite…one cannot help but experience the loss over and over…and astonish at how he captures and treats dark subjects like AIDS and homelessness and drugs with optimism. In researching Larson, I found something I think we all should know about him. Studying theatre at Yale, Jonathan learned of the term kefi, (pronounced kef-fee) which is a concept from Greek culture that he treasured and used in his life and work. It means that wherever you live, whatever is going on in your life, if you have kefi, it feels wonderful.
Have to cut this short today, it’s getting late…let me leave you with this: no matter what the anxiety, doubt or struggle, may we all find a way to absorb a little kefi!
Thank you, dear Reader, more next week!