Saturday, September 27, 2014

"Bent" Straightens Out Some Misconceptions About The Holocaust: Zeitgeist Stage Company Continues To Challenge and Amaze

Scene from "Bent"
Zeitgeist Stage Company
Photo by Richard Hall/Silverline Images

Under the courageous leadership of Artistic Director David J. Miller, Zeitgeist Stage Company continues to fulfill its mission to tell the story of the struggle for homosexual rights through many periods of history and in many locations.  Building on the huge success of last year's production of "The Normal Heart," Zeitgeist unblinkingly presents a 35th anniversary production of Martin Sherman's shocking play, "Bent."  When it was first produced in the late 1970s, the play created a great deal of "drama" and controversy. For it was the first production to focus the spotlight on the Nazi persecution and murder of many homosexuals beginning in the mid-1930s.  This play shows in graphic detail the terror and tedium of life in Dachau by those forced to live wearing the Pink Triangle - the lowest rung of the concentration camp's pecking order that also included Jews, Gypsies, mentally deficient, and political prisoners.

The play begins on the Night of the Long Knives in 1934 when Hitler ordered Himmler to use his SS troops to purge the Third Reich of perceived enemies, including openly homosexual Ernst Rohm, the leader of the SA or Brown Shirts.  A gay couple in Berlin are recovering from a night of drinking and partying when were are shocked by the appearance of a third party in the apartment - a naked young man (played with appropriate swagger and insouciance by Diego Buscaglia) who had been brought home as a "boy toy."  Unfortunately for the couple, the young man they invited home is the boyfriend of one of the SA Leaders, and he has been targeted for arrest.  Max and Rudy get swept up in the purge and are interrogated and beaten.  Rudy, played by Mikey DiLoreto with his usual steady hand and dramatic range, dies of the injuries sustained in the beating/interrogation.  Max, a schemer and survivor finds himself en route to Dachau.  On the train he learns that to be forced to wear the Pink Triangle is the worst possible way to be categorized.  He finds a way - a grotesque and macabre plot twist that I will not reveal here - to have himself classified as a Jew so that he can wear the less odious Yellow Star of David.  The man on the train who helps him to figure out what is really happening in the camps is Horst, who wears the Pink Triangle.

Max is portrayed by the astounding Victor L. Shopov, who impresses each time he steps on a stage in whatever role he has been assigned.  Elliot Norton nominee and IRNE Award winner Shopov is rock solid as the conniving and often heartless Max who against all odds sees the bud of real love begin to bloom in the desert that is the Dachau rock pile where he labors twelve hours a day with Horst.  Horst is played no less impressively by the gaunt Brooks Reeves.  The haunted look in Hortst's eyes and the shrunken posture that Horst displays allow the audience to believe that this is a man who has been worn down to almost nothing by the horrors and deprivations of the camp system, a system that gives only watery broth to those who wear the Pink Triangle, while the others get a scrap of meat in their soup.

Through another act of manipulation that is revealed in Act II, Max manages to get Brooks re-assigned to work with him on the rock pile.  Their job is to move a pile of rocks from one corner of the yard to the opposite corner - and then to repeat the process ad infinitum under the glaring scrutiny of the camp guards.  They are not allowed to talk to one another or to touch one another.  The meaninglessness and the monotony of the task is intended to drive the prisoners into insanity.  The entire second act of the play consists of watching Max and Horst move the rocks while surreptitiously conducting a long-playing conversation that turns into a friendship and then into something approaching true love - despite all the obstacles that should have quenched any spark of life or humanity.

Josh Clary as Guard
Victor L. Shopov as Max
Brooks Reeves as Horst
Ronald Lacey as SS Officer
Zeitgeist Stage Company
Photo by Richard Hall/Silverline Images

The pace of the second act is tedious - and rightfully so - for the playwright forces the audience to begin to feel at a very visceral level what it must have been like to subsist in such a dehumanizing environment and system.   For most of Act II, Max and Horst are alone on stage, very much like Estragon and Vladimir in "Waiting For Godot" - endlessly awaiting a salvation that will never come. The only other characters to appear are guards changing shifts - to give the audience a sense of the monotonous and tedious passage of time., and then a crucial confrontation in which Horst is forced to play the "Hat Game."

Victor L. Shopov as Max
Brooks Reeves as Horst
Ronald Lacey as SS Officer
Zeitgeist Stage Company
Photo by Richard Hall/Silverline Images
The denouement of the play is shocking, inevitable and heart-breaking.  This tragedy is as much a love story as it is an exposé of the dangers of being born gay.  One of the collateral tragedies is that this 35 year old story is still timely in 2014.  Even in an age when gay marriage is a fact of life, homosexuals are still being bullied and arrested and killed - at home, in Russia, Uganda, Saudi Arabia and anywhere in the world where the bent human heart still feels the need to hate.

Anther cast member of note is Ben Lewin as Greta, the transvestite owner of one of Berlin's seedier night clubs.  She appears periodically during Act I, singing plaintively and in increasing states of inebriation and disarray, symbolizing the slow decay and devolution of German society.

Robert Bonotto, Lucas Cardona, Thomas Grenon, Josh Clary and Ronald Lacey fill out the cast, very credibly playing a variety of supporting roles that help to create the sense of oppression and horror that was the Third Reich.

Kudos to Mr. Miller and his team for continuing to carry the torch and to shine the light into dark corners of our collective souls.

The play runs at the Boston Center for the Arts through October 11.

Direction:David J. Miller

Cast (in order of appearance):

Victor L. Shopov, Mikey DirLoreto, Brooks Reeves, Ben Lewin, Robert Bonotto, Diego Buscaglia, Ronald Lacey, Matthew Fagerberg, Joshua Clary, and Lucas Cardona

Scenic Design: David Miller

Lighting Design: Michael Clark Wonson 

Sound Design: J. Jumbelic

Costume Design: Tyler Kinney

Stage Manager: Aaron Leventman 

Fight Director: Danielle.Rosvally

Bent is a 1979 play which revolves around the persecution of gays in Nazi Germany, and takes place during and after the Night of the Long Knives when Hitler purged the SS of suspected homosexuals. 
The title of the play refers to the slang word "bent" used in some European countries to refer to homosexuals. When the play was first performed, there was only a trickle of historical research or even awareness about the Nazi persecution of homosexuals. In some regards, the play helped increase that historical research and education in the subsequent decades.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An amazing play by an amazing cast!