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Rent Plot Summary

By Kamilah Bush, PCS Literary Manager

Please note, this summary contains spoilers.

Rent chronicles a year in the life of a group of friends living in Alphabet City, on the Lower East Side of New York City circa 1996. On Christmas Eve, we meet Mark, a filmmaker and his roommate Roger, a former musician, living in an apartment owned by their former friend Benny. Now married into an uppercrust family, Benny has turned off the heat in the building in an attempt to force the tenants to either pay their past due rent or vacate. In a nearby lot, Mark’s ex-girlfriend, Maureen, has planned a protest performance with her girlfriend Joanne, to block Benny from evicting the houseless encampment there to build his “Cyberstudio.” He tells the boys if they can convince her to cancel the protests, he will erase their debts and allow them to live there for free. 

Another tenant in the same building is Mimi, a young dancer, who begins to flirt with Roger. He shuts her out, unable to tell her that he is a recovering drug user who is HIV positive and grieving the death of his ex-girlfriend.

Tom Collins, a friend of Mark and Roger, comes to visit after being expelled from M.I.T., but before he can reach the apartment, he is robbed and found by a street musician named Angel, who is HIV positive. They join the group and go to Maureen’s protest, which ends in a riot by the police. 

Afterwards, everyone meets at the Life Cafe to celebrate the protest. Around this time, Roger sees Mimi taking the AIDS medication (AZT) and realizes that they have this condition in common. With this knowledge, Roger and Mimi become closer and become a couple. Maureen and her girlfriend, Joanne, decide to break up, and Benny padlocks the apartment to keep Roger and Mark from re-entering.

On New Year's Eve, the crew break into their padlocked apartment and Mark finds a voicemail from a tabloid news outlet, offering to pay him for his footage of the riot. Suddenly, Benny arrives saying that Mimi (through sexual wiles) has convinced him to erase their debts and allow them to live rent free. Mimi denies his allegations and though she and Roger make amends, she finds comfort in her old drug habits.

By Valentine’s Day, the couples in the group have been living together — Roger and Mimi, Collins and Angel, and Maureen and Joanne. However, Roger’s jealousy begins to grow due to Mimi’s habits, causing them to break up. Joanne and Maureen, who are constantly bickering, also split up again. Meanwhile, Angel’s AIDS condition worsens and several months later they pass away. Shaken by the loss, Mark and Roger’s crew falls apart. Mark “sells out” and takes the tabloid job, Roger leaves town, and Joanne and Maureen attempt to rekindle their relationship. 

As time passes, each member of the group is in turmoil but tries to reconcile their differences. Roger returns to live with Mark who quits his job and finishes the film he’s been working on. Roger finally finishes the “one great song” he has been working on. Mimi has been missing; Maureen and Joanne find her unresponsive on the street from a drug overdose. Faced with the possibility of losing her forever, Roger sings a song especially for her, which miraculously revives her. Mimi says that, in her unconscious state, it was the spirit of Angel who somehow helped guide her back to life. The group then watches Mark’s film — which celebrates the last year of their life together and honors the life of Angel. 

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