Rent is the Worst

In a show full of people who are the worst, which character is the worst?

Rent, by Jonathan Larson, ran on Broadway from 1996–2008, and was adapted as a (terrible) motion picture in 2005.

Look, I have to say upfront that I love Rent. I saw it on Broadway in 1997 with my friend Nell. I listened to the original cast recording in every car I had with a tape player (I never bought it on CD and now I have it on iTunes but my car is too old to have bluetooth and I DON’T HAVE TO EXPLAIN MY LIFE TO YOU). I know all the words to most of the songs and overall have a huge soft spot for the show.

But.

It’s just not very good. The music is erratic, the story is so-so (I’d say the same about La Boheme and I don’t care if you like it), and the characters are all The Worst. But which character is the worst?

Promotional photo of the original Broadway cast of Rent

Benny is the ostensible villain of the show (not counting AIDS and addiction, I guess), but is he really that bad? He let his friends live rent-free for a year. Then he says they have to pay rent. THE HORRORS. (It is horrible that he expects back rent after promising they wouldn’t have to pay, but I’m not sure it makes him The Worst.)

Mimi is a liar and a sex worker — which of course is perfectly fine when Angel does it but she’s looked down on because of it — and a drug addict and HIV positive and…wait, none of these things make her a bad person.

Angel killed a dog, but she’s a young kid hustling to survive and got paid to do it, so it’s hard to hold it against her. (Apologies to my friend Jessica.)

Collins is a perfect human being.

Maureen is a strong contender for The Worst, because performance art is the worst and cheating on your significant other is the worst. On the other hand, she’s true to herself and she is one of the only high-profile examples of a bisexual character ever.

Joann is pretty okay, I think. She’s uptight and doesn’t really fit in with the other characters, which makes her interesting, not terrible.

Roger is a whiny jerk who runs away when the going gets tough, not to mention that he can’t shut up about writing his one song, and then when he finally writes it, it’s terrible. On the other hand, he just wants to do one important thing before he dies.

And that leaves Mark, our winner. Why? Well, let me tell you about Mark. Mark’s family loves him. Mark comes from money and has an education. Mark is white, does not have HIV, and is not addicted to anything but pretending he doesn’t have privilege coming out his ears. Mark’s girlfriend cheated on and then left him for (GASP) a woman, so I guess that was rude and we should feel sorry for him? Or are we supposed to sympathize with his refusal to sell out and actually get paid for doing what he wants to do with his time? Even though he has the opportunity to be successful and maybe even elevate himself and his friends out of their dire situation?

Mark Cohen, you are The Worst.

Anthony Rapp, the original Mark, being The Worst with Adam Pascal as Roger