Review: Hubris Production’s “Bent”

Hubris’ Revival a Limited, but Still Devastating, Success

Hubris Productions presents

Bent
by Martin Sherman
directed by Jacob Christopher Green

Review by Paige Listerud

To appreciate Martin Sherman’s Bent, one has to acknowledge the times in which it was created. When Sherman finished it in 1970, he was addressing neglected history about the Holocaust–the persecution of gay men and lesbians, along with other marginalized groups, like the Roma and the disabled, were hardly mentioned and Bent2practically forgotten. But he was also answering to the urgency of the budding Gay Liberation Movement, sparked by the Stonewall riots that had taken place just a year before. Bent is not simply about remembrance but also about reclaiming the gay male body in the face of absolute hostility—an attempt that was facilitated by the somewhat earlier explosion of the 60’s Sexual Revolution. These two basic dramatic intentions may still have fit fairly easily in 1979, when the play hit Broadway and received nominations for a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1980.

Unfortunately, at the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, Bent is showing its age. It has a singular, radical, and revolutionary focus. It lacks in-depth examination of the interconnectedness of oppressions that would make ripe material for any exploration of the Holocaust today. The men with the pink triangle may have been the lowest of the low in Nazi concentration camps, particularly when they were persecuted by fellow inmates, yet the bare suggestion that life was so much better for Jews is a component of Sherman’s radical shortsightedness–certainly not an anomaly in leftist thinking in the late 60’s, but rather irksome and disturbing to witness now.

“I wanted to do this because I had led workshops with LGBT youth at the Center on Halsted,” said director Jacob Christopher Green. “There were so many of them that didn’t know about the pink triangle. We thought the play was particularly relevant today because of similar economic conditions between the Weimar era and this. And the advances that had been made by Germany’s own homosexual movement by Magnus Hirschfeld and the Institute for Sexual Science. That was all swept away by the Third Reich.” Bent1

So while not at all denying the urgent need for remembrance, it may be time to encourage and develop more fully fleshed-out works that expose the dire straits of queer people under Nazi terror.

Without altering the script, these issues couldn’t be resolved with the very best of casts. Problematic to Hubris Productions’ presentation is an uneven cast. The first act comes across as musty community theater–the few bright moments being Travis Walker’s drag performance as nightclub owner, Greta, and the tender scene between Max (Christopher Kauffman) and Rudy (Michael Shepherd) while they are on the lamb. The set (designed by John Whittington), while irritatingly monochromatic, is designed to give the production many levels to play with, which makes the 2-dimensional direction of most of the action in 1st Act a conundrum.

The second act improves profoundly with the concentration of action on Max and his newfound ally, friend, and lover Horst (Jason Ober). That Kaufman and Ober are able to create a realistic and deeply moving relationship out of BENT_webdialogue that is sometimes stilted is a testimony to their craft and Green’s ability to create a truly intimate connection between them on a very bare and unforgiving stage. In their transgressive celebration of their sexuality and growing vulnerability, their increasing love for one another creeps up on them and on us.

By the time Horst is ruthlessly executed in front of Max, we are swept up in Max’s anguished acknowledgement that he has truly loved. He has loved men. And he has loved without the dulling distractions of alcohol and cocaine that were part of his old decadent life in Berlin. The finale is heartbreaking and devastating. This is the revolution we have needed all evening long.

Rating: ««½

Where: Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60614
When: Thru August 15, 2009
Tickets: $25 Adults, $20 Student/Seniors, Box Office: 773-404-7336
Tickets Online: https://www.tix.com

Cast: Christopher Kauffman, Michael Shepherd, Andrew Skenk, Gregory L. Payne, Travis Walker, Timothy McGuire, Jason Ober

Artistic/Technical Team: Jacob Christopher Green (Director and costumes), John Whittington (set designer), Richard Ebeling (lighting designer), Jason Dabrowski (sound design), CJ Leavens (Props), Nathan Petts (fight choreographer), Patricia Savieo (dramaturge), Lexi Staples (flag art), Tina Frey (stage manager), John Kamys (video creator/director)

Note: A portion of the proceeds from this show will benefit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. http://www.ushmm.org

There will be a Talkback Series with the director and actors immediately following the show on Sundays, July 12, 26 and August 9. They will last approximately 30 minutes.

More info: http://www.hubrisproductions.com

Review: “Shotgun Shakespeare: What the Weird Sisters Saw”

 Three sisters in search of a narrative

MacB and MacD and Banquo

Idle Muse Theatre presents:

Shotgun Shakespeare: What the Weird Sisters Saw
by Evan Jackson and Tristan Brandon
directed by Evan Jackson

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Three SistersThe witches in Idle Muse Theatre’s Shotgun Shakespeare: What the Weird Sisters Saw are certainly women on the verge. But on the verge of what, that is the question. Director Evan Jackson and co-writer Tristan Brandon have created a “prequel” to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, wherein the witches are the benign protagonists of the story. They perceive and pursue the events of the original play through visions and forces that displace the original narrative through space and time. The question is do they have any agency of their own or, at least, any agency that is clear and distinguishable to the audience?

Jackson and Brandon heavily depend upon the audience’s familiarity with the original play. They use the lines of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, only re-ordered as dialogue between the witches and other characters. I must say that, before this, I did not realize how much the original drama depended on the rhythm of Shakespeare’s language—and not simply in the pentameter of each line for each actor, as I had been trained, but also from character to character and scene to scene. All that is disjointed here–and it could be disjointed to a purpose, if such a purpose could be discerned by the audience.

MacB and Lady Let it be said that it takes audacity to put on a production like this; creators and cast can celebrate the risks that they are daring to take with a classic. Involving the witches as visionary onlookers and unwitting interlopers in the events of “the Scottish play” turns the tale on its head, compounds the evil that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are willing to engage in, and plunges the narrative into unremitting darkness. It breaks down the barriers of traditional Western storytelling–indeed, Western identity itself. It suggests that there exists no distinction between forces that influence us and the forces that we are in influencing others.

Jackson and Evans have stumbled inadvertently into Surrealism—the problem being that the operative word here is “inadvertently.” The witches are still following a timeline of their own. They do seem to make choices regarding how they will react to the visions they have seen. Sadly, too many times, the audience can lose the thread of the motivations for their actions or misperceive altogether that certain choices are being made when they are not. That’s not a good conundrum to throw an audience into. Tensions that the actors strive to build and release with a purpose, in the course of the production, are lost. The entire effect of the production comes close to disintegrating.

MacD It must be said that even a Surrealist rendering of this work still requires the training to speak Shakespeare’s words. Macbeth (Robert Negron) directs his final “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech to Morgan, the First Witch (Elizabeth MacDougald) with black futility and poignancy. Macduff (Bradley Woodward) effectively conveys the anguish at the loss of his family—no small achievement, when we have not seen it occur at this point in this production. But the dagger scene and Lady Macbeth’s (Stacy Sublette) sleepwalking scene still haven’t the consistency and power they would need even in the original. Other moments are truly inspired, such as the ritual the witches engage in prior to the end of act 1–you can feel the energy building in the playhouse.

Audiences should prepare for a challenging, incomplete, and uneven work. Can an argument be made here for potential—that is, the hope and promise of this play lies in what it could potentially be? To improve on it, perhaps the creators would have to resolve the question of what effect we can have, if any, against the darkness that surrounds us. Truly a question for our time, whether one does Macbeth in more traditional ways or not.

Rating: «½

 

Second Witch

Second Witch and Murderer