note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Sheila Barth
Riveting. Gripping. Realistic. These words are uttered in hushed tribute to Zeitgeist Stage Company’s superb production of Martin Sherman’s two-act, hard-hitting drama, “Bent,” the story of Nazi Germans’ persecution of gays in the 1930s, and their brutal, violent purging of Hitler’s Sturmabteilung, (SA), storm division, a.k.a. the Brown Shirts.
Zeitgeist Artistic Director-Director-Scenic Designer David J. Miller invariably selects controversial, explosive plays that raise social consciousness and awareness,and reaps awards for his prophetic, creative insight. Miller chose Sherman’s emotional drama to kick off Zeitgeist’s new season because this is the 35th anniversary of the U.K. searing 1979 production. Since then, “Bent” has been performed in 40 countries, translated into 21 languages, and continues to send chills up and down theatergoers’ spines, especially in the wake of contemporary persecution and violence against gays in countries like Uganda, Russia and Arab countries, where homosexuality is considered a crime, punishable by incarceration, beating, and death. Miller also chose a superlative cast -especially award-winning Boston star, Victor Shopov portraying lead role Max, a gay, insensitive, narcissistic, self-indulgent conniver. Shopov’s intensity is as raw and piercing as Miller’s electrified barbed wire fence encompassing Dachau concentration camp.
There’s also an underpinning of survival, and the sordid, humiliating, painful lengths some people endure to stay alive, even if it means destroying their loved ones. In this case, hedonistic Max, the displaced only son of wealthy parents, wheels and deals his days away, in alcoholic, drug-induced fogs. He cares little about anyone else, including Rudy, his sensitive, sweet, plant-loving dancer roommate, who adores and fusses over him.
Portraying Rudy, Max’s sensitive foil, Mikey DiLoreto (also a Boston award winner) is a bright light amid the darkness, death, and pending destruction blanketing Berlin in the 1930s. DiLoreto injects levity and humanity here, until soldiers command Max to literally beat the life out of him. As Rudy crumbles into a fetal position, theatergoers die inside with him.
Fear overtakes humanity, and the will to survive supersedes all. The ugly truth looms loud and clear, when Max and Rudy’s apartment is invaded by SA troops, seeking Wolf, an amply endowed, handsome young storm trooper Max brought home during a drug- alcohol-fueled night of debauchery. Diego Buscaglia as Wolf struts around nude, proud of his virility; but he’s also the lover of an upper-ranked officer, who are both murdered during the infamous Night of the Long Knives, when Himmler killed everyone he deemed to be a threat or enemy of Hitler (including gay officers).
Theatergoers can’t escape this reign of terror. It’s in front of us, around us, nearby, at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre. Uniformed guards stand on duty amid us.
Greta, (Brandeis University student Ben Lewin), cross-dressing closet homosexual performer, who’s married with children, but earns “blood” money by turning in gays to the Nazis, sings discordant scene introductions, motioning to us, making eye contact, devoid of guile and guilt. Greta gives Rudy and Max money to escape Berlin, after admitting he tipped off the Nazis about Wolf’s whereabouts.
Tracing Max’s capture, his hideously mind-blowing wheelings-and-dealings, and his finagling in Dachau to wear the yellow star of the Jews instead of homosexuals’ lower-register pink triangle, are startling.
In the second act, Max bonds with another sensitive, fragile “queer” named Horst, (talented Brooks Reeves) and works another infamous deal to get Horst assigned to his senseless chore - moving single large rocks back and forth, across the prison yard, to drive them insane. The two men contrive a plan to outsmart their captors and form a loving bond, which Max was incapable of before meeting Horst. The ending is electrifying.
Ronald Lacey is a commanding, robotic, and sometimes brutal SS commander; Robert Bonotto is realistic as Max’s closet-gay uncle Freddie; while Lucas Cardona, Thomas Grenon and Josh Clary nicely round out this exceptional cast.
Michael Clark Wonson’s dark lighting, engulfs us in this sinister, violent setting, and J. Jumbelic’s stirring sound effects - moving trains, loud, factory-type whistles denoting three-minute work breaks in the concentration camp, offstage gunshots, and other horrific reminders of an unspeakable evil era - jar our souls, especially in light of recent radical terror groups‘ surge of violence.
BOX INFO:Two-act drama by Martin Sherman, appearing with Zeitgeist Stage Company, through Oct. 11, at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont St., South End, Boston.Showtimes:Wednesday, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4,8 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m. Tickets:$25-$35; seniors, $20; students, $15. Call 617-933-8600, visit the Box Office at 527 Tremont St., or online at www.BostontheatreScene.com. For more information, visit www.ZeitgeistStage.com.