I saw RENT on Broadway in 1995 or 96 with a friend who had been one of the major players in AIDS activism from the start–he was one of the four people who started the Red Ribbon Project, he himself spearheaded A Day Without Art, he was one of the guys behind Visual AIDS and involved in any number of major issues involving queers and/or AIDS in the art world; I’m resisting the urge to drop names, it doesn’t matter. What I’m trying to say is that he was in the center of the hurricane. He watched an entire world, his whole generation, drop dead while he remained, inexplicably, healthy.
As the show droned on, we increasingly turned toward one another with expressions of horror. Did they just say that? Why was the Purto Rican drag queen the only disposable character? Why are they portraying living with HIV like that? What’s with the stereotyping of the bisexual character? That’s SO not the East Village! Etc. We both, at the time, experienced the play as disconnected from reality in really problematic and exploitative ways, grimacing as all the people from Conneticut clapped vigorously, tears in their eyes, as the happy HIV people sang on so earnestly. Puke.
Well, it turns out something was rotten in the state of Bohemia. Looks like Jonathan Larsen probably ripped off Sarah Schulman, and did things to her characters that she would not have done. Link goes to an interview with her.