The Mobtown Players’ production of Martin Sherman’s Bent, directed with a steady hand bu Will Carson,, is a powerful evening in the theatre. The story of homosexuals in Germany, some of whom would eventually be forced to wear pink triangle inside Nazi concentration camps, is a story little told or acknowledged. The spell of evil devoured “fluffs,” (as gays were called), and heralded in a time where those who lived on the edge of their deeper feelings -caused immeasurable pain to themselves and others. Some gays denied themselves the one thing everyone deserves – to love and be loved.
From a Berlin apartment to a Nazi concentration camp, we follow, Max (Brian Kraszewski), a gay man who is uncomfortable in his own skin. The role of Max is one that asks a single question of everyone on stage and in the audience: When does one decide to be true to oneself regardless of what others might think — regardless of the consequences?
The journey Max takes reveals the heaviness of lost identity many homosexuals in Germany felt after The Blood Purge and their fear of being arresred under Paragraph 175 which made homosexuality illegal. Max, we learn, treats men he is intimately involved with as casual encounters. His partners like Rudy (Paul Davis Griffin) crave validation but Max, who has perverted his need for love to a more manageable emotion – brushing their feelings off with sadistic manipulation.
Both Kraszewski and Griffin are terrific as they offer human episodes of love, lust, self-hatred, sacrifice and guilt. They bring to their characters insight and an awareness that demonstrates things ‘bend’ when observed. The true nature of things, it is revealed, is temporary at best.
Mark Franceschini who plays Max’s uncle Freddie gives the audience a glimpse of earlier German history. We observe in the twinkle of his eye, as he tries to identify another gay man walking through the park, and he shows the audience a glimpse into the not so distant past – a time in which there was more tolerance for other sexual orientations
Through drag queens who knew their place and Nazi officers who dispensed vulgarity and pain, we are introduced to the horrifying world of a Nazi policed Germany. The brutality alone, especially on the train ride to the camp, reveals a time of death and destruction. Andrew Wilkin (Wolf), a man Max picks up one night despite the live-in relationship he has with Rudy, gives a good performance because he represents the diversity of relationship Max enjoys. Tyler Groton (Greta and Officer) explores the conviction of those who understood Nazi Germany for its hypocritical pursuits of life diminishing policies. His performance is subtle yet strong as Greta and it ia truly amazing to see Groton reappear so perfectly as an Officer later in the play.
Shannon Light Hadley’s effective set took us from a small make-do apartment to a night club which nourished Rudy’s love of dance – to a park where family background is discussed to the train -and finally to a concentration camp which finally conquered Max’s fear of himself.
I did find, however, find it a bit distracting to turn and look up and back to the pockets of scenes directed along the wall near the top of the stairs. I can only think it was meant to simulate the discomfort Max felt as he attempted to block any true feeling he had for Horst (Eric Boelsche), who turned in an excellent performance. His need to connect with Max in the camp through “touching” breaks in the laborious task of lifting rocks – was tenderly felt and delivered Max from his self-created prison of the heart.
The Mobtown Players Bent is a powerful, heartbreaking, and heartfelt production that will make you re-examine your own identity, and the gift of loving, and will remind us of the horrors of The Third Reich.
Bent plays through June 23, 2012 at The Mobtown Players in Meadow Mill – 3600 Clipper Mill Road, Suite 114, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.