'Bent' on being a gay man in Nazi Berlin

Heidi Wicks
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Theatre

The local theatre company that has become known for staging thought-provoking, boundary-pushing plays is doing it again.

"Bent" (occasionally a slang term for homosexuality) premiered in 1979 and follows Max (Philip Goodridge), a promiscuous gay man in 1930s Berlin.

Beni Malone as Greta in the play "Bent". - Submitted photo

The local theatre company that has become known for staging thought-provoking, boundary-pushing plays is doing it again.

"Bent" (occasionally a slang term for homosexuality) premiered in 1979 and follows Max (Philip Goodridge), a promiscuous gay man in 1930s Berlin.

"The opening scene is really familiar, in that this could be us, downtown nowadays," Goodridge smiles. "There's some booze bottles around, we're groggy, the couple is bickering about what happened last night ... they were at the height of decadence. They were getting loaded, doing coke, bringing guys home ... "

Max lives with his naÏve boyfriend Rudy (Keith Pike), and has enjoyed a frivolous romp with another guy the night before.

Max's life quickly takes a serious turn when it is discovered that his drag-off is an SA man (Sturmabteilung, usually translated as "stormtrooper," which functioned as a paramilitary organization of the German Nazi party). As Hitler has recently decided to get rid of the Sturmabteilung due to the same-sex inclinations, Max's new friend is found murdered in his and Rudy's apartment, forcing the pair to flee Berlin.

"This particular story in Nazi Germany is not a well-known one," Goodridge says, "so the historical aspects of it are interesting - the details of who wore the pink triangles (a Nazi badge to identify men who were sent to concentration camps because of their homosexuality) and what that group of people had to go through."

Mack Furlong, who plays Max's Uncle Freddie (a less promiscuous, more secretive gay man) argues that it's also a very human play.

"The thing that saves it from this heavy subject matter is this great human spirit. I can't impress upon you enough how human the characters remain, in the face of what's happening around them. It's a great quality of the script. It's a play about homosexuals and the Holocaust, but you can see yourself in it. These things that happen to the characters happen all the time to people everywhere. They happen to sports figures, they happen if you're in the wrong tribe in the Congo. Weird things happen, and people cope with them in different ways."

The two add that the pace of the play is very quick and that it's very easy to follow.

"The first part of the play is really at a thriller pace because everything happens so fast, and every scene is very quick." Goodridge elaborates, "And the second half that takes place in the concentration camp is really about Max's will to survive. The building of Max and Horst's (Jon Montes, another potential prisoner Max meets while on the run) relationship is really interesting, and they find many moments of humour. So the backdrop is really daunting and dark, but because the whole play is about him struggling to keep on top of it. It's largely about survival."

While Max is outright and ostentatious in his actions, Uncle Freddie is married with children, but still enjoys homosexual encounters in a very shielded and modest context - another parallel to contemporary life.

"The play is about so many things," Furlong ponders. "For one, it's a historical story of the homosexuals in concentration camps. When this was first produced in the late '70s, they knew something of the pink triangles, but not much. Even after the war, homosexuality was still considered a crime. Other people look at it as a play of individual redemption - Max finally making a decision that he can live with. It's a love story, about how Max finds love. He's dilettantish about it in the beginning, but he ends up finding real love in a very unexpected way. It's about an awful lot of stuff. The one main message is life, and the human spirit."

Bent (directed by Sandy Gow) runs in The Basement Theatre of the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre at 8 p.m. from April 1-5, with a pay-what-you-can matinee 2 p.m. April 4. Tickets are $20 and are available by calling 729-3900.

Note: this show is for mature audiences.

Organizations: The Basement Theatre

Geographic location: Berlin, Nazi Germany, Congo St. John's

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