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California Public Theater is presenting the rock musical “RENT” — the much-loved Jonathan Larson tale of Mark, Roger, Mimi and other New York bohemians struggling with poverty and AIDS at the turn of the 21st Century — at the Tower Theatre for a short two-performance run. (The closing show is 8 p.m. Saturday.) A hard-working cast gets through the material, but apart from a few strong vocal and acting performances, much of the production is substandard. With the best seats selling for $38.50 and the cheapest at $23.50, I cannot recommend it, particularly at that price point.

Terrible sound (designed by Steve Allen) marred the opening night production, with the wireless microphones of the leading characters repeatedly going in and out. Buzzing sounds and feedback plagued the evening, and a couple of times the audience heard what sounded like interjections from the backstage crew, or perhaps they were just random voices picked up on an unintended frequency. Songs delivered as phone messages from Mark’s mother and others were rushed and hard to understand, blotting out key plot points. The worst part was the balance between the amplified major roles and the unamplified members of the ensemble. Such powerful numbers as “Christmas Bells” and “Another Day” lost their impact. (On the positive side, the nice live band, directed by Matthew D. Wheeler, never overpowered the singers.)

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Lonely Planet’


Many plays were written in the first decades of the AIDS crisis. I’d suggest that Steven Dietz’s “Lonely Planet” isn’t destined to be one that will be remembered. In contrast to Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart,” say, which I just saw revived on Broadway — and which seems as vibrant and compelling as the day it was written — “Lonely Planet” has a slightly strained, musty feel.

But the new California Public Theater production, which plays at The Voice Shop through June 26, is still a worthwhile experience, particularly for its dynamic and heartfelt staging accomplished with few resources.

Set in a map store in “any American city” (but obviously one that has suffered a large number of AIDS-related deaths in the gay community), the two-character drama introduces us to Jody (S. Eric Day), the proprietor of the store, and Carl (C. Brandon Weis), a fanatic customer. As the play progresses, the store becomes a fortress of sorts, a place where they hunker down and react to the disease that is carrying away so many of their friends.

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