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Theater Review: Absorbing, Breathtaking ‘Bent’ In Brookfield

Published: May 4, 2017

BROOKFIELD — It is a cold and brutally cruel world in which hate prevails. Nowhere is this more deftly portrayed than in Martin Sherman’s Bent, now in performances at The Brookfield Theater for the Arts (TBTA).

This is a riveting, frightening drama set in 1934-36 Germany, the early era of Nazi control. Their horrific treatment of gay men is the focus of this piece.

The preview night audience was quietly absorbed in this production, which sticks like a splinter in the brain for days.

Berlin, circa 1934, was ground zero in the onset of Nazi persecution of gays. Dimly aware of the conditions and naïvely living out their lives, Rudy and Max (Craig David Rosen and Anthony Contento) find themselves in the crosshairs after bringing home a stray following a drunken night of carousing at a local bar. Max is the partier, Rudy his tolerant and needy mate.

Finding a lanky blonde named Wolf (Nick Byrne) in his bed, Max rebuffs him while trying to recall how he managed to be in this predicament. Rudy attempts to help him recover his memory, to no avail.

A sudden intrusion by local military thrusts the couple out of their lair and into the streets. Forced to leave their home, rejected by the transgender club singer, Grete (Tony Bosco Schmidt), they are on the run.

The somewhat more resourceful Max tries to get them out of the country, yet they come face to face with Nazi troops. The encounter is as gruesome, hateful, and distressing as any ever conceived. People are forced into words and actions that erode their self-worth and will to survive.

On the way to Dachau, Max meets Horst (Joe Russo). Theirs is a relationship which develops against all odds. Horst is a gentle soul with a keen understanding of survival in the camps, which he readily shares.

In the midst of the horror lives the most basic human need: connection. The men search for companionship, express empathy, and miraculously find humor. As long as a heart beats, the human spirit cannot be crushed.

These are all excruciating and exacting performances. Supported by the men who play the brutish guards (Nick Kaye and Dan Patterson) and Uncle Freddie (Dana O’Neal) along with Nick Byrne, who also plays the Nazi Captain, this cast sends a moving and important message about the danger of intolerance and the endurance of love.

Anthony Contento is strong as Max, the ne’er do well playboy who finds himself fighting for survival as he protects his lover. His character’s growth and suffering is palpable, yet he continues to reach out to others in need. For two scenes in particular, Mr Contento displays agony and heartbreak with an intensity that overwhelms.

Craig David Rosen plays Rudy as an innocent in love. No matter what, he forgives. His vulnerability and naiveté are apparent. His Rudy gives Max a reason to grow.

In the role of Horst, Joe Russo is nothing short of stunning. His performance is smoldering, heated to the point of burning up the stage. He has full command of the emotions and needs of his character. This is a very challenging role, which Mr Russo meets with aplomb and skill.

The set, designed by Donna Glen, consists of well-built large moving parts, which work best when they are in place through several scenes.

Kudos to TBTA and director Will Jeffries for producing such a powerful play. Audiences will be moved and thoughts provoked.

Performances continue to May 13, with remaining curtains on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; and Sunday, May 7, at 2 pm. Sunday’s matinee will be followed by a panel discussion.

According to TBTA’s website the discussion will be held due to the play’s “relevance to current events” and the panel will include speakers from the Stonewall Speakers Foundation “to discuss historic persecution of the LGBT community along with present-day challenges for members of the LBGT community, family, friends, and allies.”

Tickets for shows are $20 for adults, $15 for students, and can be purchased in advance through brookfieldteatre.org.

TBTA is at 184 Whisconier Road (Route 25) in Brookfield Center.

Parents and all guests are cautioned that this production contains brief nudity, violence, and mature content. Children are not admitted to this production.

For additional information visit the website, call 203-775-0023, or send e-mail to press@brookfieldtheatre.org.

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