On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, a landmark decision for gay and lesbian Americans. Exactly a month later on July 26, Bent opened at the Mark Taper Forum in its first major U.S. revival.
In 1979, when Bent premiered in London, the general public did not know about the thousands of gay men and women who were persecuted by the Nazis during the Holocaust. The play helped illuminate the fate of the 15,000 gay men who were sent to concentration camps and the fact that the pink triangles those men wore had similar meaning to the yellow star worn by Jewish prisoners. But why is Bent important today? What can it teach us about identity at a time when America and Europe have at last embraced gay, lesbian, and a broader range of sexual identities than ever before?
Max, the main character in Bent, is told that the pink triangle is the lowest label he can be assigned as a prisoner. Thinking it’ll help him lead a better life in the concentration camp, he convinces the guards that he is Jewish and wears a yellow star on his uniform instead. Another gay inmate, Horst, tells Max that wearing the yellow star “is a lie,” and that Max “should be proud.”
Rabbi Denise L. Eger, of West Hollywood’s predominantly LGBT Congregation Kol Ami, explained that Horst teaches Max “a great lesson about not hiding in the midst of light or darkness.” Bent, she continued, “teaches all of us, gay and straight alike, to not repress who we are. To be fully human, one must let one’s inner soul shine.” Horst and Bent’s message speaks to Eger personally as well. “I have worked very long and hard to be able to encourage people to embrace both healthy sides of themselves,” she said, “and not compartmentalize their human sexuality from their religious or spiritual traditions.”
D’Lo, a transgender actor, writer, and comedian, said that hiding one’s identity can have unforeseen repercussions . “My wish for the world would be for us to stop hiding our secrets,” he said. When queer and trans people live freely and openly, it “allows more freedom for other people just by witnessing how people can live without shame.” D’Lo said that he and other queer and trans people like himself, “challenge society to see that we are you, and you are us, and it’s OK to not be normal.”