During the massive Christmas Eve number, Angel buys Collins a new coat, despite the fact that they have found the old coat. Only when Angel buys him the new coat does Collins become willing to let the old one go. One reading of this action is completely practical; he can have a new one, therefore he doesn’t need the old one, which is damaged anyhow. Another mundane though not irrelevant reading is that Angel will not be put off the purchase, despite the entreaties of Collins. A more relevant connotation is that Collins is content to discard of his old, rather depressing life, in order to take a chance. The new coat represents warmth and security, in short it represents Angel.
Thought my non-existent readers might want to see some of what we do at the drama program of my university. This here is a production analysis of Rent, with emphasis on costume and particular focus on the coat that Angel gives Collins.
Jonathan Larson’s Rent is a musical about relationships, and how the memory of these relationships can outlast the people within them. The components of the costumes help to illustrate the story lines depicted through music and lyrics in a compelling and appealing way. One of the most effective use of costume in Rent is the journey of the coat Angel buys Collins on Christmas Eve. How this coat is worn and otherwise used underscores one of the one of the most intimate stories in the piece.
Angel and Collins first meet immediately after the latter has been beaten and deprived of his old coat. The condition of the old coat is interesting; it is structurally unsound, literally coming apart at the seams. As the action progresses, it becomes clear that what Collins wears is an outward expression of his quality of life and how negative memory and experience can affect one’s wholeness. At this moment, his life is coming apart at the seams, like the coat. He has been living alone with the knowledge that he has AIDS, and he is currently unemployed. It’s clear that he sees no escape from the life that he’s living, which is evidenced by the fact that he exits with Angel still clutching the sleeve that he managed to keep in the mugging.
When they are next alone, they sing ‘I’ll Cover You Together’. There they both declare that ‘wherever, whenever, I’ll be your coat’, which is an explicit reference to the robbery and following act of kindness that started their relationship. Even the song’s title seems to be an extended metaphor for the comfort that a coat represents, and the fact that this quality corresponds directly to the relationship that Angel and Collins want cannot be a coincidence. This song becomes even more ingrained with the idea of the coat later on in the musical’s action.
It is interesting that ‘I’ll Cover You’ is sung before this purchase, as that placement gives the action of buying the coat a greater significance than if it had been sung afterwards. With ‘I’ll Cover You’ sung before this part of the musical, the purchase becomes a material representation of their relationship.
Collins wears the coat for most of the rest of the musical’s action, implying faithfulness to Angel and the constant quality of their involvement. Though he has other, minimal, costume changes, Collins continues to wear that coat right until Angel’s death. As the old coat was an expression of his life’s instability, the new coat represents the hope and warmth he is getting out of his new lease (no pun intended, honest) on life.
The coat is also a representation of the baggage that Collins acquires, even while in a positive relationship like the one he has with Angel. However, he is willing to accept this baggage, even though it will be painful later on. They both know that they are infected with an untreatable disease that could kill them at any time, and as a result the constancy of their relationship is tinged with desperation and finality. Despite the happiness that they have found in each other, it is a fact of life that one of them will likely die very soon and leave the other alone again. However, the coat does not suffer the ill use of the old coat, remaining as whole and useful as it was when it was first introduced. This shows that the negativity of their situation does not dominate the love they have for each other.
At Angel’s funeral, Collins sings a reprise of ‘I’ll Cover You’ clutching the coat in his arms. This scene is significant in two ways; this is the first time that the new coat and the song ‘I’ll Cover You’ are both featured in the same scene. The two defining motifs of Collins and Angel’s relationship are finally tied together, albeit at the end of their relationship. Also, the fact that Collins still has the coat implies that he will keep Angel on his mind. At the blackout at the end of the scene, the audience does not know what Collins will do with the coat, as he is still holding it to his chest. There is the very terrible possibility that when we next see the garment, it will be ragged and worn like the old coat, heir to the sadness that Collins is unable to let go of.
When the audience last sees Collins at Mark and Roger’s flat, he is not wearing a coat but he is optimistic for the future, reprising ‘Santa Fe’, the song that the group sang in act one about new prospects in life and getting out of the death trap that they have made for themselves in New York. Far from forgetting or replacing the coat or Angel, Collins instead is keeping up the same energy and hopefulness that he had when they were together. He has managed to shed the mourning and brooding that tends to afflict everyone else in the musical, while still being respectful to Angel’s memory. This is symbolized by his lack of coat, either old or new.
Though the story of Angel and Collins in Rent is powerful with just the music and the libretto, the use of the coat amplifies tenfold the emotion of their relationship. It is also a great insight into Collins’s psychology, and is relevant enough to merit mention in one of the songs, unlike the clothing of other characters. The coat is a poignant visual aide to the simplicity of a beautiful and positive relationship.