Reviewed by Claire McCracken
Bent is a show with many warnings. The list in the program goes on and on: extreme violence, murder, rape; this is all too real for a play set in Nazi Germany. ToToToo Theatre, the only company in Ottawa that exclusively performs LGBTQ theatre, brings this Tony-award nominated play to life as best as they can. Dealing with difficult subject matter is a challenge, and director Josh Kemp deals with it in a way that avoided melodrama and told the story quite well.
Max (Phillip Merriman) is a young, emotionally unavailable gay man living in Berlin with a sweet and salty dancer named Rudy (Aaron Mellway). After a run-in with the SS, they are forced to flee, living from place to place until they are finally arrested by the Gestapo. Horror ensues when their train arrives at Dachau concentration camp, where Max and his newfound love interest Horst (Mike Rogoff) are stuck moving rocks until they lose their minds.
A show that is acted well will usually always be enjoyable. Despite only coming in halfway, Mike Rogoff steals the show as the cynical Horst. His performance is truthful, and he keeps a smug look on his face in some of the worst situations. As Max, an extremely complex character, Phillip Merriman portrays him in a way that makes him human as his humanity slowly tears at the seams. Although his odd character voice and questionable wig are distracting, his acting is honest and meaningful.
Kemp writes in his note that he is inspired by the “prospect of a love so great it could wipe away hatred, even if ever so briefly”. An inspired director can often be a clever one, and although some choices were questionable, Kemp certainly brings his passion and creativity to the stage quite well. One always has to keep in mind that the director approves of everything in a production at one point or another, so things that didn’t work so well, like the length of Greta’s (George Rigby) song, or the inconsistency of accents were up to him to ultimately decide to keep, not adding anything to the production.
Although very realistic, the set is too much in the first act. Designer David Magladry seemed to have a clear idea, but it is cluttered with unneeded walls and staircases. Then, when the show is only halfway through the first act, the entire set is changed before the audience’s eyes, an unnecessarily complicated transition through a boring blackout. Even though the show is halfway through the run, the set changes are sluggish. The second act brought most of it back, finally having enough time for the set to stay the same and for the characters to truly interact with each other, and it was quite enjoyable. For this play, perhaps less intricate is better, and when other elements are toned down, the text is allowed to shine through.
In almost all aspects, simplicity is key. The acting, blocking, and costumes (Dael Foster) got their idea across without being weighed down. ToToToo’s Bent provides a thoughtful and touching night at the theatre, even if you just close your eyes and listen.
Bent continues until October 21st, 2017. http://www.thegladstone.ca/ (613) 233-4523