Theatre department pays Rent for last time

Alexa Gagosz and

Almost 35 years ago, Dr. Marilyn Plotkins cantered across the brick walkway on Beacon Hill where she stepped into what was then called the auditorium of Suffolk University at 55 Temple Street. She turned the lights on to find the chipping turquoise and mustard paint on the walls and to discover that the technical groundwork was ancient. Those same lights turned on this weekend for the theatre department’s final hallmark production, Rent.

Back then, it was the only place at Suffolk that sat over 100 people. Now, it holds crowds of people, anxiously waiting for a show to begin, much like this weekend.

As a result of Dr. Plotkins’ efforts, the department expanded. In 1999, the theatre major became its own department and over the past 17 years, it has housed over 200 student and faculty written and directed plays.

The 80-year history of the beloved theatre on Beacon Hill began to come to fruition on opening night of the Pulitzer Prize winning musical.

For some, it was a closing of their college and theatrical careers; for others it was just the start.

Junior theatre major and print journalism minor, Andrew John Bourque, played Benjamin Coffin III, the wealthy landlord and former roommate of Mark Cohen, Tom Collins, and Maureen Johnson.

“When I came on to the show I was mainly just a student of straight play theatre, leaving musicals way on the back burner,” said Bourque. “However after my friends convinced me to audition, I was cast and thus began the next four months of my life.”

Bourque conformed to the musical genre, something he never thought he could do.

“I learned how to sing, how to sing and act, and how to sing and act and not look like I’m in pain while trying to do so,” said Bourque.

For freshman theatre major Kane Harper, this was especially gratifying, since he has seen the musical an upwards of 250 times, according to him.

As a member of the ensemble, he played a homeless man who lived on the streets with others trying to make ends meet, to having more prominent vocal parts in later scenes.

In “Seasons of Love,” the verse usually sung by the character of Tom Collins was given to Harper, who nailed his part while belting out the famous tune along with the rest of the cast.

“I knew that it was going to be fun right as I auditioned, this show is really different from most stuff we do here and in general,” said Harper reminiscing on the show. “It’s a bit taboo and fun for everybody.”

Sophomore theatre major Erica Wisor embraced the role of Maureen Johnson and perfectly encapsulated her character’s quirks and faults.

At first, her character is only talked about throughout the first few scenes by her ex-boyfriend and current girlfriend. The two of them meet and discuss her outrageous behavior, which included wanting everyone to “moo” with her.

“Rent taught me to be present now, to take risks, to love, to revel in being different, to let go of the negative, and to hold on to everything that makes me alive,” said Wisor as she spoke of the play and the themes of the play that resonated with her.

Senior Political Science and Broadcast Journalism double major Elainy Mata played the incredibly difficult, complex, flawed, but hopeful Mimi Marquez.

“I think Mimi was one of the hardest roles I’ve ever played,” said Mata. “There was so much physicality, emotion, and strength that was needed to play such a multi-dimensional character. I learned a lot of myself and my acting abilities.”

On her own or with Roger Davis, played by sophomore theatre major Matt Bittner, she shined as one of the show’s most all-around gifted performers. She and Bittner maintained a tear-inducing chemistry.

“I loved playing and working as Mimi everyday and felt honored about even portraying such a well-known character like that,” said Mata.

Bittner and junior theatre major Kevin J.P. Hanley flawlessly recreated the roles of Roger and Mark respectively through their portrayals.

However, this was the first go-around for sophomore government major Peter Firek. As someone who has been a part of the Performing Arts Office, this was his first musical.

“It was an absolute dream,” said Firek as he explained that Rent was the reason for him to declare a minor in theatre. “The cast and crew made it such an enjoyable journey. I grew in ways I never thought possible.”

Kelly Roper, a prominent member of the ensemble explained the process in which this production came together.

“This rehearsal process was very immersive, as we spent hours listening our student dramaturges Sarah Kerr and Maggie Bie present us with information regarding the AIDS crisis timeline and the gentrification of Alphabet City,” said Roper. “Having this knowledge helped all of us actors to better understand the dire circumstances of the world we had to create. We also understood that this musical tells the stories of real people that the writer Jonathan Larson knew. It’s very different to perform with the goal of honoring people’s lives.”

Freshman theatre majors Rory Lambert-Wright and Matthew Solomon wowed with their emotional powerhouse portrayals of Tom Collins and Angel. Each character struggles with AIDS and homelessness. Each actor inhabits immensely talented vocals and acting chops, all in the while, infatuated with one another. Angel, who is a transgender drag queen, brings light to the characters as they deepen in their various struggles.

This production envied that of the original or some of the more professional productions. The chemistry between characters and unbelievably in-sync harmonies allowed audiences to grasp ahold of the emotion as if it were their own.

“There are few shows that have the audience on their feet every single night,” said Harper, still in awe as he reflected on the show’s run.

Much like the theatre department, Rent connects with people from all walks of life, regardless of background or experiences. It gives voices to those who have been stripped of them, proclaiming “No Day But Today.”

“It gave an underlying message that you can try to kick us out or take our space away but our spirits and our stories will still be here,” said Mata passionately.

Dr. Plotkins may now turn the lights off in C. Walsh with pride looking back at this production and all productions that have been held at this house that has united students, faculty, and spectators and unifying them through expression.

As Mimi famously sang, “Goodbye love. Goodbye.”