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