The stage is cluttered with seemingly abandoned clothes, rags almost, splayed in front of a large triangle. Ooints to be made. This is a setting for pain. Max’s, as he struggles to focus on how and why his body hurts in so many places.
This dark foreshadowing leads into lives soon to be turned upside down—bent, like the title of this enduringly disturbing play delving into Nazi evil, on view at SNAP. Martin Sherman wrote it. He will not let you forget it.
The excellent cast and strong director Joshua Mullady make this experience seethe and probe with harrowing truth.
In 1934 Berlin street hustler Max lives with and loves Rudy, a male nightclub dancer. It is the morning after a night of terror; Hitler’s forces have just massacred those of Ernst Röhm—Stormtroopers with a predilection for homosexual brotherhood. Being bent that way has become an evil to be wiped out. And one of Röhm’s boys, Wolf, has just had a rowdy S & M connection with Max.
Max and Rudy try to escape, with money from cross-dressing singer Greta, who doesn’t like queers, hating being popular with them, and from Max’s Uncle Freddie. There is no escape. The young men are concentration camp-bound. Rudy doesn’t make it. In the camp, Max finagles a Jewish star, on the degradation scale one rung above bent, pink-triangled Horst, to assist him in moving rocks, Sisyphus-like. The prisoners’ lives will be squashed if they touch. Yet they find a way to communicate sparks of love, verbalizing the many carnal things they yearn to do with each other.
Sherman developed his characters impressively. Despite Max’s wiles to keep himself alive, including pretending to be someone else, his S & M connections and his potential for physical cruelty make clear why he hates himself. You can see how gentle, bespeckled Rudy would be a victim in such harsh times. Greta has no softness in a woman-like body. Horst cannot help being an ironic Jew. Yet we see Max’s protective love for Rudy. And how Max and Horst would sacrifice themselves for each other.
Within such a framework, moments of tenderness glow, while acting and reacting, all of these people make real the horror of that time and place. Meanings within meanings and telling symbols abound. And, despite the inevitable hopelessness of a concentration camp, Horst still has the capacity to say funny things.
Sherman’s second act relentlessly focuses on the heavy reality of piles of rocks. Just like the prisoners, you will find no escape from the repetition of moving them and the seemingly unending crunch of stone. It can weigh you down with reality.
This flawless eight-member cast displays ceaseless depth, a credit to Mullady for bringing that forth. Eric Grant-Leanna’s Horst stands out with definitive appeal and goodness. Matt Karasek, Ryan Eberhart and Brent Spencer, in short, indelible glimpses, leave strong impressions as Wolf, Greta and Uncle Freddie. Ben Beck certainly succeeds in making Max genuinely sympathetic and vulnerable, even though the script goes deeper, implying someone much less likeable. Don Harris convincingly conveys a Nazi officer’s unceasing ugliness. However, his rather stereotypical quasi-Germanic accent doesn’t blend with everyone else’s lack of one.
You may need to know that there is full-posterior nudity and explicit sexual language. And you may want to know that love continues to beat in the heart of what transpires.
Bent runs through 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. http://www.snapproductions.com