While the atrocities committed against the Jews during the Holocaust are widely acknowledged and condemned, the stories of Hitler’s other victims are often overlooked. Through his drama Bent, Martin Sherman brings to light the story of one such group: homosexual inmates in the concentration camp at Dachau.
Following up the successful Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead with a play as intense and demanding as Bent, the Nomadic Theatre has not only proved its dexterity but also the range of talent it attracts. Paul Sciarrotta (SFS ‘03) leads the predominantly-male cast as Max, a German man imprisoned after he and his lover attempt to escape Hitler’s SS. Sciarrotta’s acting wavers at times, but he nails the scenes that count, portraying the mixed emotions that mark his character’s transformation from an egocentric playboy to a strong man who will not be shamed by what he is or who he loves.
However, Andrew Varhol (MSB ‘02) gives by far the most striking performance of the production as Horst, Max’s fellow inmate and friend. Varhol delivers his lines with a hauntingly empty gaze that mirrors the pictures taken of actual concentration camp prisoners. His stunning make-up gives him an emaciated appearance that adds to his hollow image.
Seth Miller (SFS ‘03) gives a strong supporting performance as Rudy, a dancer with whom Max attempts to flee Berlin. In addition, as Max’s Uncle Freddie, A. David Lewis (Grad.) is not only a realistic presence but also a means by which the audience gains insight into the extent of the laws against homosexuals in Nazi Germany. Chris Hajduk (CAS ‘03), an omnipresent force staying in character and on stage for the length of the entire show plays a Nazi soldier. He is ever watchful of the actors and audience alike, leaving everyone feeling slightly unsettled.
If Hajduk’s performance isn’t enough to leave the audience feeling disturbed, the scenery and lighting finish the job. Designed by James Sullivan (CAS ‘03) and Kelly Hannon (MSB ‘04), respectively, the fabulous background sets the mood for the play from the very beginning. Upon first entering the theater, one finds themself walking through a “concentration camp.” The lines of barbed wire and photos on the wall mimic the effect given by the National Holocaust Museum; that is, they transform the characters into actual people that the audience can relate to.
Also, the lights used in the railroad car scene give the performance a very realistic quality. Sound designer Jen Scott (MSB ‘03) fills the silences between scenes with music that sounds disjointed and successfully reflects the surreal qualities of the time portrayed.
Director Susanna McGuire (CAS ‘01) and producer Marie-Amelie George (SFS ‘03) did not take the easy route when undertaking this drama fraught with controversial elements. They have overcome these potential roadblocks, however, and delivered a production that forces the audience to focus on the humanity of its characters rather than secondary issues.
There were tears all around the theater as the play came to a close: perhaps the greatest validation this performance can garner.