A triangle seems like such an innocuous thing, yet this simple, 3-sided shape carved the destinies of thousands in Hitler’s Germany during and after the Night of Long Knives. BENT tells the chilling story of how gays struggle during this time, and how a simple triangle is a dangerous mark.
Playing now at the Beck Center for the Arts through July 1, 2018 in the Studio Theater, the two-act drama written by Martin Sherman and directed by Matthew Wright seethes on the edge of humanity.
The audience is introduced to Max (Geoff Knox), a hungover and bruised gay man who’s brought home a random Sturmabteilung man named Wolf (Nate Homolka), much to the dismay of Max’s boyfriend, Rudy (Antonio DeJesus). Max and Rudy banter back and forth, and Rudy has a divine time telling Max about all of the shenanigans he caused the night before (as Max cannot remember). And when Wolf finally makes an appearance, there is more confusion.
But no one has time to get too angry or concerned, as two SS men enter the apartment and go after Wolf, leaving Max and Rudy to flee at the sound of gunshots. They go on the run, seeking refuge from a club owner in drag named Greta (Brian Altman). They eventually find themselves on a train, and then Max ends up on his own in a concentration camp.
Once in the camp, Max makes the decision to pass himself off as a Jew. He requests a yellow star patch for his tattered shirt instead of the pink triangle that would ID him as a “queer,” a “fluff,” or as someone who is “bent.” This decision to deny who he really is comes with a heavy, morbid cost, and yet he accepts the price so that he’s not the “lowest” on the totem pole in the camp. You see, apparently gay people are considered lower than Jewish people in Hitler’s regime. Max wants to stay alive, and to do it by any means necessary. So he adopts the yellow star.
In captivity, he re-encounters a former train passenger that is familiar – a man named Horst (Andrew Gorrell). Horst has a pink triangle, and Max wants to try and keep him alive, too. Through bouts of starvation, sickness, bribery, fear, and a million emotions, the two somehow manage to forge a deep bond without really looking at one another. They exist side by side in a hopeless and desolate existence, yet they somehow connect in a way that can never be taken away from them. The two do no more than move rocks from one side of the stage to the other, but the effect of their ensuing conversations is potent. It even creates a longing so strong that they make love without ever touching or looking at one another.
The play about Max’s journey is not only about his physical captivity, but about the path he takes to release his mind and soul from the prisons of being unable to express love. Themes of prejudice, homophobia, and genocide permeate the tale, and the grim surroundings make for an edge-of-your-seat feeling throughout the show.
Wright’s direction is upfront, leaving the subject matter to be told in a frank way through Sherman’s characters. The ensemble breathes humanity into the darkness of the script, providing levity in needed places. The combination of all of this results in very difficult subject matter being played out with suspense, honesty, and some occasional laughter. It is also a reminder that although we’ve come a long way from the 1930s in regards to equality and respect, that we are not done yet. BENT is a solemn reminder for all kinds of people to keep fighting the good fight, and to (like Max) stay alive no matter what.
The set is one of giant sliding panels and projections that move throughout the show. Set Designer Aaron Benson and Projection Designer Steve Shack create many worlds with this interesting idea, giving the small Studio Theater space a diverse ability to transform. Sound Designer Angie Hayes’ music and audio effects give the right amount of suspense. Lighting Designer Benjamin Gantose gives an eerie feel to the ominous piece, and Costume Designer Tesia Benson puts each character in place with the right attire.
BENT continues at the Beck Center for the Arts through July 1, 2018 in the Studio Theater. Warning: Contains adult content.
Tickets can be purchased online at beckcenter.org or by calling Customer Service at 216.521.2540 x10. Prices are $31 for adults, $27 for seniors (65 and older), and $12 for students with a valid I.D. A $3 service fee per ticket will be applied at time of purchase. Beck Center for the Arts is located at 17801 Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, just ten minutes west of downtown Cleveland. Free onsite parking is available.