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Bent
a kate west review
written by Martin Sherman; directed by Claudia Jaffee
at the Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood, CA
running Fridays - Sundays; July 14 - August 21, 2005
contact (323) 960-7740 or www.plays411.com/bent

The basic premise of Martin Sherman's play "Bent" is about tolerance. In a modern age where we still experience much intolerance this should be a blessed relief, but unfortunately, the play falls a bit short, emotionally.

Gay playboy Max (John Marzilli) and the shy dancer Rudy (Jon Cohn) are living as lovers, just as the Nazis take over in 1930's Germany. Homosexuality, always socially controversial, is especially taboo in the Third Reich. Nevertheless, pragmatic Max lives it up, while still understanding what's going on in the periphery, but Rudy lives in denial. Confronted by the present at last, in the form of a stranger, Wolfe (Michael Bronte), that they pick up in a bar one night, their world comes crashing down around them when Wolfe is taken by the Gestapo. Forced to flee themselves, Max and Rudy soon become fugitives.

John Marzilli does all right as Max, though he sometimes comes across too gruff and Jon Cohn is a bit too presentational. (To be fair, however, Cohn's delicate flower character is not the most well rounded to begin with and Marzilli does not always have enough dimension to work with either.) Also, the supporting characters, like Greta (Geoffrey Dwyer) and the Nazi Captain (Paul Vroom) are not real standouts.

The Nazis eventually catch up to Max and Rudy and en route to Dachau, Max makes a horrible decision in order to survive. He also meets Horst (Josh Gordon) who becomes his survival guide and in spite of the circumstances, in spite of the horror and their initial reluctance, Max and Horst fall in love. Constantly under surveillance by evil Nazi guards, they develop a way of communicating so that no one will suspect them. Their first point of contention, the fact that Max pretends to be Jewish, preferring the yellow star to the pink triangle that Horst wears, eventually fades to the background as they begin to understand each other. Max has always been in denial about real love (much like Rudy was in denial about the outside world) and was never very good at getting in touch with his feelings. With Horst, however, he becomes his best self. Josh Gordon is highly sympathetic as Horst and of all the cast best expresses the subtlety and diversity of emotion.

Yet in spite of Gordon's excellent performance, the production lacks real heart. Director Claudia Jaffee makes the best of it, but we are left feeling a bit too removed. Max and Horst try to create something beautiful in the middle of all the ugliness, but even with some strongly tragic scenes, we should care more than we do. While there is good historical content, there is not a well-realized and emotionally satisfying ending. Still, half the audience seemed wrapped up in the story so it could go either way. Note: this is not a play for children, so leave them at home. And aside from the strong content (violence and sexuality), there is also brief nudity and some gunshot sounds.


 

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