Jessica Downing


illness, theatre, media representation, cultural studies, Rent, La Boheme, HIV, identity


Note: In lieu of an abstract, this is the article's first paragraph.

"The musical Rent made its Broadway debut on January 25, 1996, a century after the opening performance of the opera, La Boheme. This correlation was a coincidence, though Rent draws significantly on the story of La Boheme, to the extent that a New York Times reviewer deemed it a "contemporary answer to Puccini's 'Boheme."' Each of these productions presents the troubles and tragedies of the bohemian lifestyle in a specific time and place-La Boheme in Paris during the 1830s and Rent in New York City during 1989. Disease, too, is a major theme in each: tuberculosis in La Boheme, and HIV in Rent. Each of the plays illustrate the different effects of the diseases with respect to conceptions of life and death, identity, spiritual promotion, and time. The historical and medical contexts of tuberculosis and HIV manifest in different perceptions of diagnosis and contagion. The extent of influence La Boheme had on Rent calls for a comparison of the representations of these two diseases in their respective historical contexts."