University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Cunningham “Rents” Place in Theater Guild History

Nineteen-year-old chemical engineering sophomore Kevin Cunningham has an offbeat method for relaxing from the trials and tribulations of his extremely demanding major. In late March and early April, he appeared in the university's Theater Guild production of "Rent," based on Giacomo Puccini's powerful and lovely opera, "La Boheme." Cunningham was recently featured in an article about the production in the Hampshire Gazette and Amherst Bulletin. "Rent" tells the story of a group of young artists and musicians, many with HIV/AIDS, struggling to survive in New York City's Lower East Side. Cunningham actually played two roles in the production, the father of one of the young artists, as well a Bohemian resident of the East Village. The musical debuted on Broadway in 1996, winning that year's Tony Award for Best Musical, as well as a Pulitzer Prize for its creator, Jonathan Larson. The Theater Guild is a UMass Amherst student organization with roots on campus that date back to 1906.

Cunningham described the play as being about "the overarching power of love.” His two roles proved to be an acting challenge. In the scenes in which he played the father, he always had to be conscious of the way he moved and the tone of his voice.

"As an adult, I'm more firmly rooted. ... I inhabit a more solid character," he explained. "While the Bohemians are more free-spirited, constantly in motion. You can't contain that."

The play was performed through April 3. (April 2010)