An Impassioned Call for Empowerment, Beck Center's Bent Delves Deeply Into Awareness

Professional Theatre

I’d like to buy a cake.
I’d like to get married.
I’d like to go out tonight to a dance club.
I’d like to hold hands with the person I love.
I’d like to go to church without shame.
I’d like to serve my country.
I’d like to keep my job.
I’d like to not be put to death because of who I am.
I’d like to vote.
I’d like not to be bullied.

These seem like reasonable requests. They are, but if you are queer, kiss this shit goodbye. At least, for now. We have a lot of work to do.
It is very clear to any reasonable human being that our current administration came into power by tapping into the racism, hatred, and prejudice that exists in this country. One thing it has done is WOKE the people up to realize you can never sit in silence, you need to voice your opinion and VOTE. #wokevote

Martin Sherman decided to WOKE some people up in 1979 with his play Bent. The Pink Triangle features prominently, as the play revolves around the persecution of gays in Nazi Germany and the horror of the concentration camps. It takes place during and after the Night of the Long Knives, in which Hitler came to power by eliminating any political or social leader on his way to obtaining supreme power. Under Hitler's leadership and racially motivated ideology, the Nazi regime was responsible for the genocide of at least 5.5 million Jews and millions of other victims whom he and his followers deemed socially undesirable. LGBT individuals were among the millions. In taking one slice of gay humanity and tracing the path of his character Max, we are left with an incredibly dark tale and a lesson in inhumanity.

Max (Geoff Knox*), a promiscuous gay man in 1930s Berlin, is at odds with his wealthy family because of his homosexuality. One evening, much to the resentment of his boyfriend Rudy (Antonio DeJesus), he brings home a handsome man named Wolf (Nate Homolka), which he comically remembers after his fling pops in the living room to say “Good Morning”. (Yes, there is humor in this tale. There has to be, or you would be set up with a Vodka IV at intermission for Act Two. After Act Two though, you might want to bring in a flask). Unfortunately, it is the night that Hitler orders the assassination of the upper echelon to consolidate his power. SS men break into Max and Rudy's apartment and kill Wolf, and the two have to flee Berlin, and do so, with the assistance of a club owner, and drag performer Greta (Brian Altman).

Max's uncle Freddie (David Burgher), who is also gay, but lives a more discreet life with rent boys to satisfy his desires, has organized new papers for Max to flee to France where homosexuality is legal, but Max refuses to leave his naïve boyfriend behind. As a result, Max and Rudy are found and arrested by the Gestapo and put on a train headed for the Dachau concentration camp.

On the train, Max refuses to recognize Rudy. So, for self-preservation, and in a brutal request for survival, he is forced to beat Rudy to death. Max lies to the guards, telling them that he is a Jew rather than a homosexual because he believes his chances for survival in the camp will be better if he is not assigned the pink triangle.
In the camp, Max makes friends with Horst (Andrew Gorell*). Horst takes a liking to Max, and they end up together on rock detail. As they talk and painfully maneuver through the punishing routine, an incredible love story comes to fruition. They fall in love and become lovers through their imagination and through their words. Both of them are put to extreme measures, and their outcome will stay with you for a long time. In the end, it is facing life with bravery and purpose, no matter what the cost.

This play is led and owned by the two leads actors. Knox is a brilliant actor. We watch him navigate a life that is decadent, and slowly watch as layers are ripped off his personae to reveal the truth, however, ugly that may be, but also, reveal the truth of humanity that exists within us if we can allow ourselves to be hurt enough to feel it. When he eventually reveals what the guards made him do to prove he was straight, I felt stunned and helpless at that moment. Gorell is off the fucking chain masterful. To watch him come into this play, and slowly develop a moral and loving center amidst the horror of what is going on is outstanding. Such simplistic acting choices that ring so loud it feels like an emotional bass speaker is hitting your soul. Both of these gentlemen are magic together. And when they “make love”, it is one of the purest celebratory and heartbreaking moments that make you want to go out and hug everyone you love for a month or never let them go. It is with these two individuals and a couple of rock piles, that life within this play is defined with visceral clarity. I want to wear them both as clip-on earrings and go out and fight for the lives of all who are tramped on, by constructively pushing back against all who exist by igniting and feeding off fear.

Brian Altman as Greta, serves up some major attitude and fabulous scene work, as he helps Max and Rudy escape. Very strong and focused scene work. And who doesn’t want to sing a song on a flowered swing. David Burgher is dead on with Uncle Freddy. Perfectly playing the closeted, omg I’m in public, but I still have to cruise, helpful relative, that is actually risking his life to help. Burgher also shows up later as the Captain at the end of the play, and I assure you, he is a total dick, or I should say, his character. Antonio DeJesus as Rudy carries with him the innocence of life should be like under a normal world. Never really getting how you can trust no one. His character’s naivety is nicely portrayed. When Rudy dies, we care, and that is a mission accomplished. Homolka gives Wolf, the one-nighter, an entertaining sexual bravado that fits nicely into character. He also transforms into an ice-cold Officer as well. I would be happy to punch that character. Luke Ehlert is the perfect Guard to set down rules for the stone yard. I felt like any moment he could belt out “Tomorrow belongs to me”, and then shoot someone. Cold hearted delivery on point. 

There are some observations. The panels did come across a bit clumsy in the set changes, at least, the sound of them switching positions took you out of the moment a bit. Rudy’s delivery in the first scene tended to be too fast to understand and trailed off at the end of sentences. Fade away jumpers are fun, but we have to hear them. For some reason, the emotional punch of the evening didn’t really kick in until the two lead characters were engaging with each other, with the exception of Altman’s Greta scene. The stakes could have been on a higher burner during Act One. However, the culmination of the journey speaks for itself.

Director Matthew Wright has assembled a beautiful cast for this show. The power of the piece and the incredibly important message that emanates from the production is clear and distinct. The stone scene is masterful storytelling, shaped beautifully. His Director’s Note is well worth reading. I am sure after reading it, you will realize how personal a story is being presented, and a signal to be WOKE. Stage Manager Hayley Baran called a great show. Aaron Benson created an interesting set, with panels that took on multiple locations through projections. Also, the panels were mobile enough to help discern locations as well. As Technical Director, he brought all the elements together nicely. Costume Designer Tesia Benson was fiercely on point. Lighting Designer Benjamin Gantose kept the atmosphere emotionally cloudy and let the projections work nicely within his design. Sound Designer Angie Hayes was certainly on point. Steve Shack was impressive with his projections, aiding the storyline, and creating a train effect that was chilling.

This show is important. If you haven’t seen Bent before, it is just as important today, as it was in 1979. In 2009 - Bent was presented in Amarillo TX by AVENUE 10, causing the theatre to be targeted by an anti-homosexual Christian group resulting in the theatre being shut down and forced to find another venue for the show. 1934 is still relevant. 2009 is still relevant. How many stories exist that we haven’t heard. It takes balls to Direct this show and aims for human consciousness to become aware that this persecution is still happening. We must pay attention.

Director Matthew Wright has raised the flag, not at half mast, but all the fucking way up the pole.

See the show. See the truth. See the message. See the change that you can empower.

We're here, We're Queer, Get used to it!

Cleveland Stage Alliance

*Actor appears courtesy of the Actor’s Equity Association (AEA)
Ticket Information
and Promotional Materials

Through July 1

8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
3pm Sundays

$12-$31 Reserved Seating

(216) 521-2540

Beck Center For The Arts
17801 Detroit Avenue
Lakewood, Ohio 44107