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