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When Martin Sherman‘s Bent premiered in 1979, audiences were still largely unaware of what happened to pink triangles in concentration camps. “Survivors didn’t talk about it, because in Germany homosexuality was still against the law when the war ended,” director Sandy Gow of c2c theatre points out. Now, three decades later, it has carved out a position of prominence amongst its contemporaries.
“The play always feels immediate to me. Most days I don’t even think of it as a period piece,” Gow admits. “It’s full of energy, and even though it’s set against one of the worst events in history, it’s allowed to feel good sometimes. I still remember reading the first scene and laughing out loud. We need those moments; otherwise the ending would be too hard.”
Bent is about a “self-indulgent, charming” character named Max who is on the run from the SS in Berlin following the Night of the Long Knives in pre-war Germany. He is accused of homosexual relations, eventually caught and relegated to Dachau. Gow approached the script’s serious subject matter knowing, “it was important to address it openly and honesty, but not to drown in it.”
Gow specifically noted the talents of Andrew Whalen, Calvin Powell and George Robertson who have taken on the roles of the Gestapo, SS Guard, Officer and Captain. “Sherman didn’t shy away from the brutality these men inflicted, so we’ve jumped into the deep end with him. Working with violence and weapons onstage has been part of the experience. It’s important for it to not overwhelm the play, but the physical danger of the time has to live alongside the love story.”
Before the casting process, Gow already had her Max in mind and wanted Philip Goodridge for the role. Interesting considering Sherman also had the actor whom he wanted to cast in that role in mind as early as initial drafts – Sir Ian McKellen. Gow confessed, however, that “finding Horst was a challenge since the relationship between the two prisoners is thorny but extremely intimate at times.”
Ultimately, Jon Montes’ memorable audition led him to the part and Gow couldn’t be happier, gushing that “his Horst brings out the best in Max,” which is the best anyone could hope for in a loving relationship, regardless of surroundings. “This is a play about Max embracing who he is in the face of hatred and cruelty and being strong enough to feel the things he so desperately tries not to.”
Bent is known for one of the greatest love scenes of all time, despite the fact that there is no touch at all and Gow says that Goodridge and Montes have been “fearless” about approaching the intense moments.
The show’s strong cast has fully committed to the show as well. Gow’s favorite aspect of the show is that the audience never leaves Max and other characters weave in and out, exposing glimpses that show how they all effect, love and change Max. “There was a lot of excitement and many that auditioned already had copies of the script or had previously studied it. When I asked Beni Malone to play Greta, he already had his copy on the shelf and Mack Furlong had been to the original production in 1979.” Rounding out the cast are James Hawksley and Keith Pike.
The set, designed by Sam Pryse-Phillips and lit by Brian Bishop, allows for the show to move through a number of transitory settings that include an apartment to a bar, park to forest and a train to the concentration camp. The sound design was created by Shannon Hawes. c2c theatre’s presentation of Bent will run from April 1-5 2009 in the Basement Theatre with a PWYC matinee on Saturday, April 4th at 2pm. Tickets are $20.00 and are on sale at the Arts and Culture Centre Box Office or order them by calling 729-3900. In c2c theatre tradition, they invite those attending on opening night to stay after the show for a small reception with the cast.