By Henry Smith
I’ll start by saying that I am a huge fan of Martin Sherman’s Bent. I did not expect the Theatre Engine production of it, playing at the Abrams Studio Theatre, to live up to my expectations. But I was happily surprised; great performances, from a great script, made for a great evening of theatre.
Set in late 30’s Germany, it tells the story of a gay man’s journey from non-stop party in Berlin to his enduring the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau.
David Coomber does a fantastic job as the protagonist Max. This role seems dangerously easy to play 2-dimensionally, but Coomber adds realism to the constantly nervous, self-loathing character. With Max’s two love interests in the play, Rudy (played by Raffaele Ciampaglia) and Horst (Jesse Nerenberg), the three actors show an exceptional bond together, managing to engage the audience with relationships most could believe in. And that’s not getting into the details of one of the most interesting love scenes I’ve ever seen on stage.
C.J. Astronomo also deserves a nod, for lighting design. The shadowy textures really pushed this show to a professional level, especially during the transitional midsection of the play.
In fact, the only complaint I could come up with was that the SS Captain’s uniform seemed comically large, adding a Bugs Bunny edge to his brutality. However, my date Kathy disagreed. She felt that the oversized costume, as well as it’s obvious cleanliness, added to the distance between oppressor and oppressed.
In fact she really liked the show and said, “I hope you give it a glowing review, and I hope it gets lots of people to come out and see it. It deserves to have an audience.”
Performing Bent at this time, during Gay Pride Week, highlights its relevance. Max’s struggle with his varying shades of being “out” still rings true, and the liberal freedom that Weimar Berlin had in the 1930s wasn’t that different to what we enjoy today. This is a reminder to treasure what we’ve got (and to ensure we keep it), as it can be quickly taken away.
I didn’t expect this performance to live up to my lofty expectations, but it did. It’s easily the best play I’ve seen this year.
(Editor’s note: This review came to me with the comment: “PS. GO.SEE.IT. F’ing AMAZING!!!” which I take to be a good sign about the quality of the show. *grin*)
– Bent is playing at Ryerson’s Abrams Studio Theatre (44 Gerrard St East)
– Shows run Friday June 26 – Tuesday June 30 at 8pm, with a Saturday matinee June 27 at 2pm
– Ticket prices range from $12 – $15
– Tickets are available at the box office, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo of David Coomber & Jesse Nerenberg in Bent, July 25, 2009