“The Tragedy of Dissemination in Bent”

By Robben Wainer

            “Bent”, is a play by Martin Sherman. “Martin Sherman,“Bent” 1979, Amber Lane Press Ltd. London, England.”…is a play about the underworld, betrayal, torture, homosexuality, and survival. The play takes place in Nazi Germany, as it was understood that gay men who were caught, went to prison, to wear a pink triangle that signified they were amongst the lowest of the low of Nazi Prisoners. The play is basically a story of how one gay actor chooses to live and die once imprisoned by the Nazi’s. It is a story of dignity and yet of shame, it is a story of real gay love and sexuality, and yet it is the irrational disgrace of the sin that seems to make the greatest imprint. The play Bent in its own carnal drives is, like the story of the Jews, about how homosexual men had to die in concentration camps so that their self respect may be preserved by gay men and women in communities to come in the wake of the oppression of a dictator, and the genocide that held to gay men their one choice which was to die with dignity as homosexuals.

            Bent begins as a gay couple, Max and Rudy, return home after an evening at the burlesque, gay night club where there were both performers. The first act alludes to the raid by Nazi officers as it is told by a young hustler who is found in their bedroom and who is wanted by the Nazis. The SS officers kill the gay guest as Max and Rudy make their way into exile to escape the Nazi’s, and leave Germany forever. It is at the boarder that they are both caught and taken into the concentration camps.

            To win status, Max who is the antagonist bribes a guard to be given a yellow star since Jews were treated slightly better than homosexuals by the Nazis, who were seen as less than human, disgraceful, rapists and sinners. A fellow prisoner with whom Max was on the train with is brought in to his camp, to be shown the work that was to be carried out twelve hours a day, and consisted of moving boulders by hand from one pile to another and then back again, with the intention of driving the prisoners insane, and wearing them physically down to nothing.

            The climax of the play is when Max and Horst while on break are standing at attention, and verbally voice a climactic sexuality which they express as lovers for each other’s body until they both reach orgasm. The homosexual loving discourse is so sensuous and slightly explicit that it is somehow more than a divine intervention. It is actually the beginning of hope found at what both characters know inherently may lead to the end of their lives. As Horst becomes sicker and sicker from what is implied may have been a repeated experience, he is executed with his body thrown into a pit. Max understanding that Horst was one of the few men he had ever loved sincerely throws himself into the pit and climbs out wearing a pink triangle symbolic of the fact that he must die as a gay man if life means anything even in the wake of one’s own death. At once the lights blaze on, and it is implied that Max is executed as a gay prisoner who is wearing the symbol that was designed to have all of homosexuality annihilated, and nullified as if it were an insignificant race.

            The play Bent thematically is not a story about culture or race. It is a story of oppression and a classification of sexually oriented persons who are made to suffer a death sentence. Homosexuals were thought to be the lowest form of life by the Nazi part. It is in Bent that we see the antagonist and his gay lover transcend passion that comes from the highest of eros, and transcend sexuality as mortals yet more so than what was believed to be the sexuality of the Gods. We also see the gay lovers imprisoned transcend even the fear of God, as two people whose sexuality and sexual preference is of the most humanly dignified and self respecting, while they are knowledgeable of the fact that they will be tortured for it by an irrational Dictator.

              The play Bent is effective in that it asks no indirect questions of confusion. It is about a gay couple going into exile to avoid the death sentence. It is about the treatment of homosexuals who were thought to be less than human, and it is how homosexuality is a sexual orientation that surpasses all human rationale to become the most sanctimonious form of human dignity that can transpire. Bent, of course is about the tragedy of how gay men, and women during the reign of the Nazis had to die for what is understood to be a mark of distinction in our unfolding truths of human sexuality.

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Comment by David McKay on 6th mo. 8, 2016 at 5:13pm
Sounds like an intense play. Yet I wonder about your more personal reactions to it. Have you seen it staged? (or is this indeed a "book" review?) How did it work as theatre? It's been years since a saw Laramie Project. The staging was spare, even stark. But it had an overwhelming impact on me I still remember.
Comment by Robben Wainer on 6th mo. 9, 2016 at 9:48am

I have seen the play on stage when I was  a teenager, there was an awe inspired moment when Max the main character goes back to dress himself in his lovers purple triangle and then runs right on to the electrical barbed wire fence. There was  a moment of terror having seen the perfectly humane love making the couple had the potential to carry out.

This is a book review however, I borrowed  a copy of the play from The Mid Manhattan Library, and then purchased it through Amazon. I began with a word sketch that lead to an outline that helped me form the foundation of the review. The book is not quite so focused on anatomy as the play was. For the most part the story of exile and being caught makes the sex scene the most natural occurrence between two homosexuals . I don't know if and where the play would be showing but I do recommend reading the play as it is not long. It is not quite as romantic as it is humane. I think you will find it worthy. 


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