The Justice Theater Project opened Bent on Friday, Feb. 9th, at the Umstead Park United Church of Christ in Raleigh. This groundbreaking Martin Sherman play about the persecution of homosexuals during WWII is not an easy one to see, but it is as important and compelling a drama as you will ever witness.
The play opens with Max, a German party-boy played by Sean Wellington, awakening to discover he has brought “Wolf,” a Nazi Stormtrooper, home for a night of drunken debauchery that he can’t quite remember. Wolf is played very convincingly by Gus Allen, who does an admirable German accent and plays the large imposing Nazi as adorable as a kitten. The small bits of laughter in the first scene nicely contrast with the sudden violence that is to follow.
Unfortunately for Max and his partner Rudy, played by Brenton Blakesley, this is exactly the wrong Stormtrooper and exactly the wrong night. This night happens to be the evening that became known as “The Night of the Long Knives,” during which Hitler had many of his political rivals executed.
Chief amongst these rivals was Ernst Röhm (Wolf’s lover and the leader of the SA (Storm Battalion). Röhm’s homosexuality had lent the gay community in Berlin some security, but that evaporated after his death and the addition to the German penal code of Paragraph 175, which made homosexuality a crime punishable by imprisonment and loss of civil liberties.
Having been discovered as homosexuals, Max and his partner Rudy flee the Nazis; but they are eventually caught and sent to the concentration camp at Dachau, where gay people are designated by Pink Triangles and are considered the lowest of the low.
Under the direction of Joel Rainey, The Justice Theater Project’s production of Bent has some very beautiful and powerful moments that make the experience one you won’t forget. I was entranced by Michael Lester as Greta, as he sang “Streets of Berlin,” and by how the right to love and the desire to live authentically can survive in the face of unspeakable horror.
The set and light design by Tab May and Darby Madewell was impressive and the train-car and prison sets spoke to the nightmarish oppressiveness of those scenes.
There were some parts of the production that I felt dragged; and even though Sean Wellington and Brenton Blakesley are fine actors, I never quite got the feeling that their characters Max and Rudy were in real jeopardy while they were on the run. This might have been intentional — to contrast with the shock of what happens to them once they are caught — but it left me feeling less invested in their characters, and it took some time to feel connected to Max as a result.
Overall, the performances were good; and Justin Brent Johnson, as Horst, was stellar. The quiet strength and dignity with which he plays Horst brought the performance to a higher level and raised the character of Max to heroic proportions, because of his love for Horst. I don’t want to give anything away but Max’s journey to self-knowledge and acceptance will haunt you.
Bent runs until Sunday, Feb. 18th. It is rated NC-17 (“No one 17 and under admitted”) and is intended for mature audiences.
As part of The Justice Theater Project’s mission to produce compelling theater, create community dialog, and give voice to social concerns, there is a five-minute talk by a relevant community organization by during intermission. Bent is a night of powerful and important theater; but more than that, it gives you the chance to bear witness to a time in history that wasn’t so long ago and a mindset that is still frighteningly current.
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 Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2018/02/for-all-its-horror-martin-shermans-bent-is-in-fact-a-love-story/.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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).
Nicole Noel is a former U.S. Army journalist-turned-Technical Knowledge Manager, with a love for the arts. At age seven, she wrote her first story on the wall of her basement after being told the family might have to move: “There once was a girl named Nicole who had a dog named Rat and they lived in this house.” She liked the way that you could capture a moment in a sentence, and still does. These days Nicole lives with her daughter, and a dog named Buffy, in a house in Fuquay-Varina. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.