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For All Its Horror, Martin Sherman’s Bent Is, in Fact, a Love Story

The Justice Theater Project, well-known for their mission “to produce compelling theater experiences that create community dialogue and give voice to social concerns,” continues its “Equity and Identity” Season with Martin Sherman’s Bent, first produced in 1979 in London. It is performed from the stage of the Umstead Park United Church of Christ in Raleigh, NC, under the direction of Joel Rainey.

The story line takes place during the so-called “Night of the Long Knives” in 1934, when Hitler had upwards of several hundred Brown Shirts murdered. Included in the raids were homosexuals and Jews from the Brown Shirts leadership and ranks, and many of their consorts.

One of these consorts, Wolf (Gus Allen), is found hiding in the cozy little love nest of Max and Rudy (Sean Wellington and Brenton Blakesley). This sets the two gay men on a flight from Germany, although they are caught and sent in a train box car to Dachau. What happens on the train and when they arrive at the death camp is the rest of the story. This is not a comedy.

For all the horror that ensues, this is, in fact, a love story with a famous erotic scene that is superbly played. But the utter brutality of the Nazi regime is unavoidably present in the midst of the blatant naiveté of Max and Rudy.

The set is well thought out and constructed by designer Tab May and set build crew chief Jerry Sipp. The sound and lights by, respectively, Juan Isler and Darby Madewell are excellent, also. Equally commendable are the costumes by Brenda Hayes, especially the first act swishy intimate wear.

Unfortunately, we wish the scene changes had taken less time. We also feel the first act pace was too slow. It is possible that the slow pace of the second act was deliberate to emphasize the slowness of time for the imprisoned, and it may also be that the entire production will pace up as the cast fit into their performance groove.

Director Joel Rainey has extracted excellent characterizations from his cast. He has taken on a heavy project and done well with it. Bravo!

Kudos to Sean Wellington, who plays the lead role of Max, a kind of ne’er-do-well from a wealthy family, dabbling in the gay life, probably to affront his family. His is the arc the story follows, and Wellington fulfills the curve solidly.

Brenton Blakesley, as Rudy, is a sympathetic and bewildered young gay man in Max’s clutches. Blakesley brings out his tenderness and trust for the older man. And Michael Lester does a terrific job as Greta, a cross-dressing entertainer, in a Berlin cabaret.

Uncle Freddie, Max’s benefactor and sympathizer, is played by Mac McCord, who handles the role of a worldly-wise “fluff” in a hetero world with aplomb and sophistication. And Justin Brent Johnson fills his role well as Horst, the prisoner who becomes Max’s partner in the stone garden of Dachau.

Jim O’Brien plays three authoritarian roles, along with Alex Lewis, who also doubles as a prisoner. Both do fine work.

This show tells us more about us all as human beings than just that some are terrible examples of the race, and in fact drives home a somewhat larger truth: that, indeed, love conquers all.

SECOND OPINION: Feb. 10th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Roy C. Dicks: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8831; and Feb. 7th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/bent/Event?oid=11364790. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 11th Triangle Review review by Nicole Noel, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2018/02/the-justice-theater-projects-production-of-martin-shermans-bent-is-not-easy-to-watch-and-its-impossible-to-forget/.)

The Justice Theater Project presents BENT at 3 p.m. Feb. 11, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15 and 16, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17, and at 3 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Umstead Park United Church of Christ, 8208 Brownleigh Dr., Raleigh, North Carolina 27617.

TICKETS: $22 ($15 students and $17 seniors and active-duty military personnel), except all seats $15 at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11th, and $15 per person for groups of 10 or more.

BOX OFFICE: http://www.etix.com/.

INFORMATION: 919-264-7089 or thejusticetheaterproject@gmail.com.

SHOW: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/bent/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/548260152199508/.

2018-19 SEASON: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/20182018-season-of-shows/.

PRESENTER: http://thejusticetheaterproject.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Justice-Theater-Project/29290766458.

VENUE: http://upucc.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/UmsteadParkUCC.

DIRECTIONS: http://upucc.org/contact-usdirections.

MAP: https://www.google.com/maps/.

NOTE 1: There will be preshow discussions and various other events before various performances. Click here and scroll down for details.

NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18th, performance.

OTHER LINKS:

Bent (1979 West End and 1979 Broadway Holocaust drama): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/2618/bent (Samuel French Inc.), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/bent-1946 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bent_(play) (Wikipedia).

The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Martin Sherman (Philadelphia, PA-born playwright and screenwriter): http://www.casarotto.co.uk/client/martin-sherman-11545 (Casarotto Ramsay & Associates bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/martin-sherman-7577 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1453396/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Sherman (Wikipedia).

Joel Rainey (Raleigh, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/joel.rainey (Facebook page).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on Amazon.com. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori previously reviewed theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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