Martin Sherman’s Bent is a story that examines the persecution gay people in Nazi Germany. It is also a story of the importance of love and how it can continue to endure in the most horrific and challenging of circumstances. It is an acclaimed piece since it’s premiere in London in 1979 and has continued to be recognized for its powerful sensitive understanding of the evil of fascism and the strength of the human spirit in subsequent incarnations. It is a brave choice for any theatre to tackle and explains why ToTo Too is recognized as one of the finest community theatre companies in Ottawa. Bent is not an easy play to watch much of the time, but it is an important play that will always be relevant to people, unfortunately made more timely because of the resurgence of hate groups attacking Muslims, Jews, the LGBTQ community and anybody that is perceived as different.
David Magladry’s set presents a tidy Berlin apartment tucked into the downright corner of stage. It is minimalist but not without the important details, right down to the half dead plants on the stand beside the bedroom door. An invisible wall at the left border of the apartment allows you to see the menacing figures outside the apartment waiting to crash in and crush the lives of the people inside. The cast moves the simple set pieces dutifully to subtly evoke a Berlin drag club, a park, a train and finally the Dachau concentration camp.
Josh Kemp has directed the piece with finesse. There is an underlying omnipresent tension. There are huge challenges here. In one scene the action requires that the characters repetitively pace back and forth. The action keeps your interest because every step illuminates the emotional and physical state of the characters. There is not a single step made without purpose.
Phillip Merriman as Max runs an emotional gamut that is staggering. He is an arrogant deal maker, a terrified refugee and finally a complete human being liberated by love in a bittersweet finale. His performance is brilliant, exploring the complete palette of the human experience.
Aaron Mellway plays Max’s first love Rudy (the dancer) as an exuberant artist full of life and optimism who is thrust into the frightening reality of a world of hate. His more fragile, less streetwise persona is played with sensitivity and heart.
Mike Rogoff is Horst, Max’s clandestine Dachau lover. He performs a muted love scene under the watchful eyes of the Nazi guards with a quiet emotional depth that is beautiful and melancholic. He meets the challenges of this role and complements Merriman’s performance perfectly.
The supporting cast are no slouches either. John Collins takes on the dual roles of Uncle Freddie the sympathetic, closeted gay man working behind the scenes to get his nephew Max out of the refugee camp and as the cold icy Captain that looms threateningly over Dachau. He hits all the right notes in both performances. Sean Brennan’s Wolf is also terrific as the casual lover pursued by the Nazis and George Rigby is haunting as the cabaret owner Greta.
This is bold, brave theatre that resonates well beyond the LGBTQ community. Toto Too has found a perfect piece to meet it’s mandate as the only theatre to examine LGBTQ themed pieces that are provocative and profound to the entire community. This is dynamic, brilliant gut wrenching theatre that needs to be seen. ToTo Too has taken on the challenge of performing a difficult play and succeeded because of their belief and commitment to doing important stories that expand understanding of humanity. Bravo!
It was interesting that there was a quiet in the house after the final scene, not because we were uncertain that the play was over, but because we were still were taking it in and didn’t want to break the moment.
Reviewed by Jim Murchison.
Phillip Merriman Max
Aaron Mellway Rudy
Sean Brennan Wolf
Lucus Kenny Guard
Paul Washer Guard \ Kapo
George Rigby Greta
John Collins Uncle Freddie \ Captain
Production and Design
Author Martin Sherman
Director Josh Kemp
Assistant Director David Ing
Co-Stage Manager Kat Wong
Co-Stage Manager Jason Hopkins
Set Design David Magladry
Lighting Design Frank Donato
Sound Design Robert Krukowski
Costume Design Dael Foster