Meet the characters of ‘RENT’

Nicole Hennessy

Watch a video about the play.

“RENT” addresses many social issues such as homelessness, drug use, AIDS and love. Meet the actors playing the close-knit group of characters, and see what they have to say about themselves.

Danny Lindenberger as Mark Cohen

Mark is a struggling documentary filmmaker. As the musical’s narrator, much of the plot is seen through his eyes.

“In this production, we see many characters that are struggling to live, not only because of their illnesses, but also because they do not have the funds to survive in a world that is quickly becoming a corporate controlled environment,” Lindenberger said.

Mark witnesses the effects of AIDS firsthand through his roommate Roger, who is HIV positive.

“Drug use directly led to my roommate, Roger, acquiring AIDS,” Lindenberger said about his character. “I have lost friends to the disease, and have many others that are currently being affected by it. I am not a drug user, nor do I have AIDS.”

After Benny promises them free rent and then retracts his promise and demands money, Roger and Mark refuse to pay.

“I think we should examine the rights of the homeless,” Lindenberger said.

Another flaw he finds in society is “that we need to see a decrease in the cost for drug rehabilitation facilities, as well as a decrease in the cost of prescription medications.” Many people in society could live long lives with AIDS, but they cannot afford it. It is no secret that people die over the course of the year that this production covers.

Miriam Henkel-Moellmann as Joanne Jefferson

Joanne is not a drug addict, a struggling artist or the victim of AIDS. She is an Ivy League-educated lawyer.

“Unlike much of the show’s characters, who are different artists, she loves helping people, and I feel people relate to that,” Moellmann said.

As a lawyer, she does pro-bono work to achieve her goal of helping people.

In a parking lot where homeless people live, she sets up a protest against developments building there.

She “wants society to start caring about mankind as a whole because without each other, we are nothing,” Moellmann said.

Joanne’s girlfriend, Maureen, left Mark to be with her.

“(Joanne’s) main struggle is maintaining a relationship through the good and the bad times.” Moellmann said. “Work can become stressful, and you may neglect those who you love but through perseverance and love relationships may survive.”

Katherine Mackenzie Waddles as Maureen Johnson

Maureen is a bisexual performance artist. Early in the play, she leaves Mark for Joanne.

Though enamored with Maureen, Joanne quickly learns the truth about her flirtatious, devious, non-committal ways. Mark tells her about how Maureen cheated on him with other men.

In the dialogue of the musical, she snaps at Joanne: “You know what, Miss Ivy League? I can’t take much more of this, this obsessive, compulsive, control-freak, paranoia.”

She is used to being hit on by everyone and flaunts that fact.

“Every single day I walk down the street, I hear people say, ‘Baby, so sweet,'” she sings in the song “Take me or Leave Me.” “Ever since puberty, everybody stares at me. Boys, girls, I can’t help it, baby.”

Because of this, the couple spends most of the play breaking up and getting back together.

Maureen performs at protests protecting the parking lots the homeless call home. She beseeches the audience to moo with her.

Waddles could not be contacted for comment.

Steve Fornaro-Grilley as Roger Davis

Once Roger was a successful musician; now he is a struggling ex-junkie who is HIV positive. When Act I begins, Roger is dealing with the suicide of his girlfriend April, who killed herself after finding out they both had HIV.

He soon meets Mimi and falls in love.

Roger knows he is going to die and wants nothing more than to write just one last meaningful song.

In “One Song Glory,” Roger sings: “Find one song, one last refrain, glory, from the pretty boy front man, who wasted opportunity, one song – he had the world at his feet – glory, in the eyes of a young girl, a young girl. Find glory beyond the cheap, colored lights, one song before the sun sets – glory on another empty life, time flies, time dies.”

Fornaro-Grilley could not be reached for comment.

Jon Gluckner as Angel Dumott Schunard

Angel is a drag queen street percussionist living with AIDS.

The most charismatic character of the production, Angel “is always optimistic, even though I have AIDS,” Gluckner said. “I am a very positive, happy and inspiring person. I bring light to every situation.”

Angel’s love interest is Collins, who also has AIDS. The two attend life support meetings together to deal with it.

“AIDS has affected my whole life. Many of my friends have it too, and it is really hard,” Gluckner said about his character. “Drug use has also plagued the lives of some of my friends.”

Though Angel is optimistic, he is also realistic.

“AIDS, drugs use, alcoholism, sex, homelessness, poverty, etc. These things, although unfortunate, are very real,” Gluckner said. “They will never go away.”Ceasing each day, Angel is able to bring a sense of relief to the play.

“I treat every day as though it is my last,” said Gluckner. “I try to brighten up the lives of others, also. If I can make someone happy for a day, then I can make myself happy.”

Zach Hartley as Tom Collins

Tom Collins is a gay anarchist who is living with AIDS.

In “RENT,” Mark describes him as a “computer genius, teacher, vagabond anarchist who ran naked through the Parthenon.”

“Collins brings an endless source of unconditional love to the world of ‘RENT,'” Hartley said. “It hurts him for people not to give love or accept love that has been given to them.”

After being mugged, he met his love interest, Angel. They found out they both have AIDS, and they fell in love.

“Collins is not only positive in tests for AIDS, but positive in his outlook on life with the disease. People should stop thinking that they can be beaten by anything,” Hartley said. “Hope and love can allow people to win out against anything – even if your life is greatly shortened by disease or anything else; there is no reason that a person can’t have a positive effect on the world around them.”

Though drug use and disease take up a large part of this production, the message these topics send is enormous.

Carson Ross as Benjamin Coffin III

Benny is the landlord of Mark, Roger and Mimi’s apartment building. He also happens to be the ex-roommate of Mark, Collins, Roger and Maureen.

After marrying into money, he is considered a “yuppie” and a sellout by his friends.

“I am responsible for a part of the urgency placed within the action of the play,” Ross said. “The other characters are artists who are fighting for what they believe is right, and I am going against them by following my own path.”

His actions previous to Act I are those which Ross believes drive the plot.

“Although I start as a sort of ‘bad guy,’ the audience gets to witness my struggle between pursuing my career and trying to make peace with my friends, which shows my humanity,” Ross said.

Benny neither has AIDS nor runs into too many people who do after moving from Alphabet City, where the rest of the characters live, to the upper East Village.

He doesn’t do drugs either but struggles to find himself as he watches his estranged friends struggle to do the same.

“The main focus of the show is a message of “carpe diem.” To be able to live in the moment is something I think we often take for granted as we get caught up in our busy lives,” Ross said. “Working for a greater goal is definitely a part of life, but there is something to be said about living each moment to the fullest as you will never get that moment back.”

Danielle Dorfman as Mimi Marquez

Mimi is a stripper at the Cat Scratch Club. She is also a drug addict who has AIDS.

She lives downstairs from Mark and Roger and becomes Roger’s love interest.

“Mimi is constantly struggling with drug use throughout the show. She can stop using, but only for a short while until she needs to have that fix again,” Dorfman said. “It affects her relationships, specifically her relationship with Roger because she can’t give up one thing in order to have the other.”

In her apartment, the heat and electricity get turned off because she squanders all of her money on drugs.

“Mimi knows she’s hurting herself,” Dorfman said, “but from what we know of her as a character, it seems almost like the pain she’s inflicting on herself while using drugs is her way of dealing with her pain from her past.”

The audience is never told directly of Mimi’s past.

“It is assumed that Mimi has had a difficult past dealing with abuse, drugs and a lot of pain,” Dorfman said. “She desperately wants to feel loved, which is why she is so set on Roger. She wants someone to notice her, someone to genuinely care.”

Contact performing arts reporter Nicole Hennessy at [email protected].

“RENT” still has four more performances at the E. Turner Stump Theatre in the Music and Speech Center.

• 8 p.m. Nov. 5, 6, 7

• 2 p.m. Nov. 8

• Tickets are $8 for students and $16 for adults