“Rent” in the Post-Pandemic World

Pictured Above: Michael Krulder as Roger Davis sings as Ghana Haase (Tom Collins) carries Quinn Bruer (Angel) over the threshold to the afterlife. |. Ernesto Sosa photos for NFCT

The world of theater was hit particularly hard by the past two years of isolation, both globally and here on the East End, with productions cancelled well into rehearsal or in the middle of a run, postponements as cases of the coronavirus surged, and, even in recent weeks, whole weekend stretches of productions cancelled due to Covid flareups within casts.

Into this semi-post-pandemic world, the North Fork Community Theatre’s Youth on Stage crew is putting up a production of “Rent” this summer that is especially poignant in the wake of what we’ve all lost over the past two years.

The rock musical, about the lives of a crew of young artists coping with poverty and AIDS in New York’s East Village in the early 1990s, takes on a lot of themes that aren’t often found in a youth production. Though there is a high school version of “Rent,” this production is the full version of the play, which doesn’t shy away from adult themes.

“This play has been done by high schoolers, but it’s not the most common one,” said Director Sarah Scarbrough just after a sold-out opening night July 21. “There are parts of their characters’ stories that they really haven’t experienced themselves. We’ve done a lot of work connecting to the core of their characters. Most have experienced grief, or wanting to be loved or accepted.”

The cast of this production, which runs Thursdays through Sundays through Aug. 7, is a mix of Youth on Stage veterans and performers who are new to the NFCT stage, many of whom have stellar chops, a necessity for a play that is told almost entirely in song, like the opera, “La Bohème,” on which it is based.

Standouts among this cast include the two leading couples — Ghana Haase as the gay anarchist computer professor Tom Collins and Quinn Bruer as his drag street drummer lover, Angel Schunard, and Michael Krulder as Roger Davis, the guitarist wending his way through depression after his girlfriend killed herself after finding out she had AIDS, and Meghan Duffy as Mimi Marquez, the exotic dancer next door who successfully seduces Roger.

Ghana Haase turns in some of the most stellar vocal performances of this production, dreaming to open up a café in “Santa Fe,” and pledging his love to Angel with the tender and forceful “I’ll Cover You.”

Brandon Horyczun as the shy filmmaker Mark Cohen also share some tasty chemistry with Lily Kutner’s Mimi Marquez in “Tango: Maureen.”

Ernesto Sosa photos for NFCT

The rock and roll pit orchestra — keyboards, guitar, bass and drums by Joshua Kaplan, Christian Mangiomelli, John Schroeder and William Green, respectively, — helmed by veteran NFCT musical director Karen Hochstedler, keeps this show, which could have become highly unwieldy, on track.

“This show is a big undertaking, especially with all the music. You have to be constantly on the rhythm and the music — the music director been great,” said Ms. Scarbrough, the director. “Everyone was dedicated and committed to getting it done.”

Most of this cast was born post-2000, and hadn’t had firsthand experience with the stigma and silence surrounding AIDS, or with the necessity of banding together with fellow societal outcasts in a world that was far less accepting of sexual identity than the world we live in today.

“There’s definitely been a bit of educating about what’s going on and trying to connect it to today, showing the parallels — yes, this is a different time period, and there are certainly things they don’t realize — cell phones were really new, and not a lot of people had them, and how can you be on hold on 911.”

“A lot of the production team was alive during the 90s, and they’re having nostalgia for that time,” she added. “That’s been fun.

“Rent” continues Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through Aug. 7. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online at nfct.com.

The North Fork Community Theatre is located at 12700 Sound Avenue in Mattituck, and the box office can be reached at 631.298.4500.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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