Max is a liar and con man. He is also a marked man as Nazi Germany has passed a law outlawing homosexuality and ordering homosexuals rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Max will do whatever it takes to stay alive and out of the clutches of the Nazis, but one lover will cause Max to hide his true self while another will restore it. But the cost is terrifyingly high. Discover the price in Bent by Martin Sherman and currently playing at SNAP! Productions.
Sherman has written a neat little script that abounds with hope, tragedy, and even a touch of comedy along with some nice foreshadowing and surprises. He also focuses on a lesser known bit of knowledge about Nazi Germany in that homosexuals were just as much of a target as the Jewish people with the twist that this group was viewed even less favorably. Sherman uses an interesting conceit of having his primary characters have no accents despite their being German natives. This adds an everyman quality to the characters showing that the evil and persecution they faced was a problem for humanity and not just a localized, national issue for Germany.
This play is uniquely suited to Joshua Mullady’s talents as a director as nobody knows how to craft character conversation scenes quite like him. This is essential for this particular play as it is almost completely dialogue driven requiring a director who knows how to keep the life and energy pumping through the wordplay. And Mullady does this in spades with his actors delivering extemporaneous dialogue with some of the sharpest cue pickups I have heard.
The entire cast does a fine job in supporting this story as each adds a precious bit of life to the production and all have absolutely perfect projection. With that being said, I’d also like to salute Don Harris’ standout cameo performance as a bloodthirsty and psychotic Gestapo guard as he will make your blood boil with his cruelty and viciousness.
Ben Beck doesn’t even seem like he’s acting in this play as he is so natural and believable as Max. He’s actually quite the scoundrel as he supports himself with cocaine dealing and con jobs and routinely lies like a rug. But he also shows bits of a tender heart as he tries to help and save the two men in his life. Unfortunately fate seems bound and determined to work against him as his own survival instinct crooks his efforts. This gives Beck the opportunity to beautifully sell two powerfully emotional scenes at the end of each act that are guaranteed to move even the coldest of hearts.
The two men in Max’s life require a bit of yin/yang quality and that quality is well embodied in the casting of Beau Fisher and Eric Grant-Leanna.
Beau Fisher plays Rudy, Max’s lover before his imprisonment by the Nazis. Rudy’s function is to let Max be the strong protector. Fisher embodies Rudy with a childlike innocence and trust in Max. He is perfectly content to enjoy life as a dancer and watering his plants, fully trusting in Max to take care of the important things to ensure their survival. But this childlike trust eventually destroys Rudy once he becomes the hunted as his happy-go-lucky existence renders him unable to fend for himself. When he faces the ultimate challenge on his way to Dachau due to his need for glasses, Fisher’s screams and cries will chill you to the bone and his final fate will reduce you to a puddle of tears.
While Rudy allows Max to be the protector, the function of Horst, Max’s lover in Dachau, is to allow Max to be the protected. Eric Grant-Leanna skillfully embodies this quality as he teaches Max how to survive in their personal piece of hell. He’s tough. He’s knowledgeable. He’s loving. He also helps Max to remember who he really is through his love which culminates in an incredibly and intense romantic scene made all the more stunning as it is done solely with the power of voice, words, and imagination as neither Max nor Horst ever touch each other.
I can’t say enough good things about the technical elements of this show. Ben Adams’ set is a phenomenal, dilapidated flat that transforms into the barbed wire surrounded Dachau and in the midst of it all is the ominous pink triangle which marked all homosexuals in the concentration camps. Zach Kloppenborg’s costumes are well suited to the era especially the costumes of the prisoners and stormtroopers. As always, Joshua Mullady’s lights imbue the show with a special bit of life and Daena Schweiger’s sound design further bolsters the play, especially the air horns and crackle of the electrified barbed wire.
Though these voices be of the past, their words still ring loud and clear today. Our world is still very much in a war against evil and this play reminds us that we are still in the thick of a fight. But it also reminds us that that fight can be won when good people bind together and counter it with faith, hope, peace, and love.
Bent plays at SNAP! Productions through Sept 17. Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 8pm and Sundays at 6pm. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students, seniors (55+), TAG members, and military, and $12 for all Thursday shows. For tickets, call 402-341-2757 or visit www.snapproductions.com. Due to strong language and mature themes, Bent is not recommended for children. SNAP! Productions is located at 3225 California Street in Omaha, NE.