Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Martin Sherman's 'Bent' Is An Uneasy Love Story

By Darlene Donloe

Bent is a disturbing show that will leave audiences shocked and spellbound.

It’s an emotionally draining offering with both a powerful, yet ugly message about intolerance.

Directed by Moises Kaufman, this dramatic first major U.S. staged revival since the Broadway premiere in 1979, when it was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play, is currently playing at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum through Aug. 23.

At its core Bent, set in 1934-1936 Germany, is a love story and how it can blossom and survive in the most unspeakable and inhumane conditions. 

Bent follows the struggles of gay men trying to survive in Nazi Germany, in particular Max and Horst two men who, in the midst of the darkest moments of mankind, manage to give and receive love and find strength in each other.  

Mesmerizing and haunting, as the story unfolds there is an uneasiness that envelops the theater.

Max (Patrick and Heusinger) and Rudy (Andy Mientus)

After Max and his lover Rudy are arrested in Germany and forced onto a train headed for Dachau Concentration Camp, Max in an effort to survive, is forced to deny he knows Rudy and later is required to beat him. 

On the train Max meets Horst, another prisoner, who gives him advice on how to survive in the camps. Horst tells Max that being labeled gay is the worst thing to have happen in the camp. 

So Max, who isn’t a Jew, convinces the guards that he is and receives a yellow band signifying he’s a Jew, while Horst is wearing pink triangles on his clothes which identifies him as gay.

Eventually Max and Horst develop a true friendship that quickly grows into love. Of course, unable to actually touch each other, they devise a kind of tantric sexual relationship that is fulfilling for both.

Horst (Charlie Hofheimer) and Max (Patrick Heusinger)

Patrick Heusinger and Charlie Hofheimer are nothing short of brilliant as they spend the entire second act walking back and forth moving rocks from one side of the stage to the other.  Their banter is both comical and insightful. Their  visual fatigue from the laborious task is etched all over their face. 

This is not an easy play to watch – but that’s the point. It should make audiences squirm and gasp and be totally disgusted and outraged. It should disturb everyone who sees it. It should arouse conversations and hit bigotry right between the eyes. It’s dark, but it’s also humorous. It’s also potent and thought-provoking.

Upon exiting the Mark Taper, the audience was offered the chance to light a candle in memory of those who loss their lives in the camps, particularly those who wore the pink triangles.  

Kudos to everyone in this production. The acting was superb, the direction was tight, the lights, music, costume and hair brought the production together. Beowulf Boritt’s set is phenomenal and efficient. Cricket S. Myers’ sound is lingering.

Bent, written by Martin Sherman and directed by Moises Kaufman, stars Hugo Armstrong, Ray Baker, Tom Berklund, Matthew Carlson, Brionne Davis, Wyatt Fenner, Patrick Heusinger, Charlie Hofheimer, Andy Mientus, Jake Shears, Brian Slaten and Jonathan B. Wright.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Bent gets an E (excellent). 

Bent, Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave, Los Angeles; 8 p.m. Tues-Fri, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Sat., 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sun. through Aug. 23; For information: 213) 628-2772 or www.CenterTheatreGroup.org. Tickets: $25 - $85 (ticket prices are subject to change).

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