Revisiting RENT naturally brought me back to Collins and Angel, my favorite couple in the show. I’ve resumed my occasional habit of trolling YouTube for videos of Jesse L. Martin and Wilson Jermaine Heredia as these terrific characters, so I figured it was time to write about them.
Speaking relatively, Collins and Angel don’t have a ton of face time in the musical or its film adaptation (disclaimer: though I’ve listened to the album many times, I haven’t seen RENT onstage, so these observations may be somewhat off-base for the theatrical version.) Roger and Mimi obviously make up the central romance, and Maureen and Joanne get a lot of flashy hot-and-cold interactions, but Angel and Collins just keep on keeping on in their supporting roles.
That’s no hindrance for me. In fact, my favorite romantic pairing in many stories is a supporting one (like Turk and Carla on Scrubs.) There are plenty of advantages to not being protagonists; you can be entertaining/likeable without having to do much narrative heavy lifting. This is especially important with romance, because it means you don’t have to get saddled with a lot of manufactured drama to make you “more interesting.” RENT is no exception – Roger and Mimi’s relationship is threatened by issues of fear, trust, jealousy, and misunderstanding, and they’re forever thrown together and pulled apart. It’s not like that with Collins and Angel. I’m not sure what it says about RENT that “only” being HIV+ is considered “low drama,” but here we are.
Anyway, let’s talk Collins and Angel. They’re an unexpected couple, but not in a clear “opposites attract” way. Collins is an out-of-work philosophy professor with a talent for creative activism, cynical but not jaded. Angel is a street musician (a 10-gallen plastic-tub percussionist) with creative ways of getting cash, sweet but not saccharine – just as an FYI, since Angel is often in drag, I’ll follow drag pronoun rules and call her “she.” Their meeting is a 100% chance encounter, with Angel helping Collins after he’s mugged, but their connection is instant.
Besides being young and attractive, it’s hard to say why they’re so immediately taken with each other. Angel’s eagerness to help plays a part in it, of course, but there’s something more that I can’t quite name. I like that being HIV+ isn’t an issue for their getting together. For Roger and Mimi, it’s a stumbling block for the entire first act, whereas Angel reveals her status to Collins right away, and he reciprocates in kind. In fact, it seems to help them to get together as quickly as they do – in addition to providing a commonality, it also reduces worries about infection.
It certainly influences the swift intensity of their relationship. Pretty much as soon as Collins and Angel connect, they’re both all in. They’ve taken the “No Day But Today” mantra of the Life Support meetings to heart and seem in unspoken agreement to love as much as they can for as long as they can. Because of this belief, and because of the invisible specter of the virus within them, they don’t let the drama get to them. Hand in hand, they can weather the storms.
I dunno. I’m not usually a “love at first sight” kind of person, but it feels different here. It’s less that they’re swept away by their overwhelming feelings, and more that, having an initial attraction and knowing they have an impending expiration date, they make the decision to love each other. They throw themselves into it, not because they have no self-control, but because they want to make up for the lost time yet to come. There’s something gorgeous about that.