As the first major U.S. revival of Bent opened at the Mark Taper Forum, the Los Angeles Times took two close looks at the production.
Arts and culture writer Deborah Vankin sat down with director Moisés Kaufman and playwright Martin Sherman, and explored the history behind Bent, which tells the story of a gay man who is sent to Dachau concentration camp in 1930s Germany:
“I don’t find the play dark. I find it full of life and humor,” says director Moisés Kaufman. “We have this preconception about tragedy. I think tragedy is only one color in bad fiction. In reality, there was sexual attraction in the camps—wherever the human spirit is alive there will be sexual attraction—and humor.”
Sherman, sitting alongside Kaufman, calls the play inherently optimistic.
“One of the things the Nazis did was to strip you of your personality,” he says. “But if you found a way to somehow grab a hold of your sexuality, then you found a way of maintaining your identity in the camp—which was a great act of defiance.”
In his review of the production, L.A. Times theatre critic Charles McNulty called Bent “a gripping tale of love, courage and identity that today can be universally appreciated for its enduring theatrical power.” And while McNulty, like Kaufman, noted that “the play makes room for humor,” he also lauded the gravity of the staging—and the timing of this revival:
The deadly seriousness of the situation is never absent in Kaufman’s staging. The play’s shorthand theatricality doesn’t paint a realistic portrait, but the way the production humanizes these victims of genocide ultimately make atrocities, past and present, all the more real.
Gay rights have come an enormous way in the 36 years since Bent was first done. The timing is fortunate for Center Theatre Group to be presenting this potent production of Bent with the tender gay coming-of-age musical Girlfriend at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. In this summer when many are celebrating that marriage equality has become the law of the land and when President Obama is reminding African leaders that gay rights are, indeed, human rights, it is important to remember that looking back is perfectly compatible with moving forward.