Love is Found in the Darkest of Places: An Exclusive Look at Bent
In this bustling world it's important to instill themes of love and hope in our lives. Sometimes love is found in the darkest of places. Bent tells the remarkable story of homosexual persecution in Nazi Germany, and the will and determination of some of the men affected by the Nazi regime and labor camps. The word "Bent" actually refers to a European slang word that people used to describe homosexuals. This is an eye-opening play that has inspired research into this topic. The playwright, Martin Sherman, brought awareness to this topic through his research and writing the show. In the labor camps, it was worse to be a gay person than to be Jewish. They were branded with colored emblems to distinguish these groups (pink triangles for gays, yellow stars for Jews). Bent follows the story of Max, a playboy in Berlin. Him and his boyfriend, Rudy, find themselves on the run from the SS. Once they are captured, out of fear of the unknown, Max lies about being gay so that hopefully he can survive just a little bit longer. Despite initially denying himself, he meets Horst, whom he forms a new relationship with and is able to once again be true to who he really is. Referred to as, "powerful and courageous," by the New York Times, this story teaches us to both give and accept love in whatever circumstance it may present itself.
For director Jay Danner, this play takes him back in time and is one he's always kept in the back of his mind. Even though he now calls Charleston home, he has a B.F.A in Theatre from Columbia College in Chicago. Danner is no stranger to Threshold Repertory Theatre. Last seen onstage in Don't Cry for Me, Margaret Mitchell and as director of Tape, which won numerous Theatre Charleston Awards, including; Best Director, Best Play, Best Ensemble, and Best Actor in a Play. Bent means even more to him because while in college, he played the role of Horst. Danner believes that, "There's some humor, besides the serious subject matter," and that for him, some of the ideas he got from the story were to, "be proud of yourself and not shameful." Even though the setting is pre-WWII, the playwright wrote the play at the rise of gay pride in the U.S. and he helped historians document the Nazi's persecution of homosexuals. Danner also reminds us how stories like Bent which focus on the human condition and survival are still very relevant today.
One thing that seemed to stand out from interviewing some of our actors, was the growth and different types of human contact they came across while rehearsing. In camps like these, any physical contact or lingering glances were prohibited, and guards would take lethal action if someone broke the rules. Performers in tv, film, and stage, rely on physical contact and being able to look someone in the eyes when they're trying to connect with them in a scene. The same cannot be said for actors Patrick Arheim (Max) and Randy Risher (Horst). They've had to rely on their voices and other means of communication to get their point across. Risher comments that "We're taught to react. We're trained to connect with another human by using physical contact. It's been challenging, which is good."
Risher feels that Bent's themes can still be seen in today's world; the feelings of separation, being human, and acknowledging who you are. Patrick Arheim (Max) connects with the realness of the characters. He believes that, "it's a good character piece, rather than a statement piece. It's a fantastic story about someone battling personal demons and falling in love." Arheim's character expands personally throughout the show, starting out as a man about town who hasn't really had a need to grow up, but is forced to face himself in ways he never thought he would have to. Throughout his journey, he begins to love himself.
It all comes back to three major ideas: love, hope, and perseverance. Love: the relationships formed throughout this story. Hope: staying positive despite the gruesome situations these characters are in. Perseverance: the will to stay alive and make yourself be heard, to feel. That's what Danner wants for this show, "people to come out feeling something." As with any show, we want our audiences to leave in a new state of mind than when they entered the theatre. This show will tug at your heartstrings, but the humor and hope sprinkled in, will in turn, leave you feeling enlightened.