As per usual, my fellow reviewer, oft theater companion (and now fiancée) got straight to the heart of the matter.
“At Mobtown, they really put their heart into a play. They do it right. They have the courage to take risks, and when it pays off, it pays off big,” she said.
Couldn't have said it better myself—an apt assessment of the Mobtown Players’ latest production, “Bent,” Martin Sherman’s 1979 play about the horrible cost of being homosexual in Hitler’s Germany.
“Bent” follows the story of Max (Brian S. Kraszewski), a fun-alcohol-cocaine-loving gay man living with “a dancer,” Rudy (Paul Davis Griffin) in a modest Berlin apartment in 1934. Max’s aforementioned addiction to “fun” leaves Max with memory issues; he can’t remember Wolf (Andrew Wilkin), the nearly-naked lover he picked up in club the night before. In short order there is soon much Max would rather forget.
Max is a man of deals, deals he makes with gay lovers, friends, prison guards and prisoners, even Nazi tormentors, all in a desperate attempt to stay alive. Kraszewski delivers a powerful performance of a man who constantly questions his own decency and goodness as he struggles to keep his sanity, 10 seconds at a time, in the face of unspeakable horrors.
Kraszewski is supported by a wonderful cast who truly occupy their characters; you feel the pain, fear, and torment, as when Max must make a choice between survival and betrayal while on a train to Dachau, or when Max and fellow prisoner Horst (Eric Boelsche) make love without ever touching.
“Bent” is a derogatory term the Nazis use in referencing homosexuality, but it could also be the word to describe the spirits of men like Max and Horst who may bend but never break. In the concentration camp, Dachau, Horst speaks of the punishment his barracks is forced to endure when one of his fellow prisoners commits suicide.
“Killing yourself is a kind of defiance, it’s an act of free will,” Horst says, and that’s something the Nazi captors cannot abide. Though the Nazis work hard to rob Max, Horst and all those under their dominion of their humanity, reducing them to inanimate objects like bits of fabric – i.e. the “pink triangle” homosexuals must wear – Max and Horst refuse to give in, even as they spend the better part of the play’s second act doing nothing but move “rocks” from one side of the stage to the other, a Sisyphean labor designed to “drive them insane,” Max says.
Kudos also to Mark C. Franceschini in the role of the pragmatic Freddie who can spot a “fluff” (gay man) at 200 yards but plays it safe by taking a wife, and Tyler C. Groton as a cross-dressing, politically savvy torch singer who realizes just what the death of Nazi leader and outwardly gay Ernst Rohm will ultimately mean for homosexuals in Germany.
If you’re looking for depth, you won’t find it in the William Alden’s Captain, Tyler C Groton’s Officer or David Morey’s Guard—there’s no humanity to be found among the Nazis here, their roles are not meant to have layers. Like evil in general, they are banal, as they should be.
Director Will Carson does a tremendous job in choreographing action on the stage which transforms from a bohemian-style flat to a club to a Cologne park to a forest to a train car to finally a death camp all in the first act alone! The props, lighting and staging are spot-on and the play’s final moment is especially powerful, a wonderful interplay of actor, staging, lighting and sound as Max asserts his humanity through the ultimate act of defiance.
“Bent” continues its run at the Mobtown Players theater, 3600 Clipper Mill Road, Ste 114, now through June 23rd. Tickets are $15, $12 for students and seniors and may be purchased at the door or or through Brown Paper Tickets. Learn more at http://www.mobtownplayers.net