In a Nazi concentration camp, two homosexuals dream of connecting with each other and dream of surviving to a time and place which accept them for who and what they are. They can’t embrace; they can only use words to epitomize their love, speaking about their bodies with what’s in their minds’ eyes. Thus beats the heart of Bent written in 1979 by Martin Sherman, unfolding at SNAP.

The Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award -nominated play was considered a landmark as one of the first contemporary plays to openly address gay issues on stage. It came at a time when few people were aware of such Nazi persecution.

“People knew about how the Third Reich treated Jews and, to some extent, gypsies and political prisoners. But very little had come out about their treatment of homosexuals,” Sherman pointed out, calling attention to the fact that gays continued to be imprisoned even after the Third Reich fell. “If you found a way to somehow grab a hold of your sexuality, then you found a way of maintaining your identity in the camp – which was a great act of defiance.”

The events are deliberately portrayed as ordinary, as possible. “Love is the basis of this play, and it is the constant that is normal,” said the L.A Times . “The war and the Holocaust are aberrations blocking the natural flow of love not only of two men, but also of all mankind.” It also points to the influence of Bertolt Brecht, in that looking back is compatible with moving forward.

The title of the play refers to the slang word “bent” used in some European countries to refer to homosexuals. In some way, this play helped increase historical research and education about the issues during the 1980s and 90s. There was a film version in 1997 which Sherman also wrote.

He’s best known for 20 stage plays been produced in over 55 countries. An openly gay Jew, many of his works dramatize discrimination and marginalization of minorities whether “gay, female, foreign, disabled, different in religion, class or color.” Also Tony-nominated was his 2003 script for the musical The Boy From Oz about show biz star Peter Allen.  

Expect explicit language.  And glimmers of dark humor.

Bent runs Aug.24-Sept. 17 at SNAP Productions, 3225 California St. Thurs-Sat.: 8 p.m. Sun: 6 p.m. 5/14: 2 p.m.  Tickets: $$12-$20.

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