Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Also see Mark's review of Heir Pressure
In the Beck Center for the Arts production of Bent, it is June 30, 1934 (The Night of the Long Knives), and Hitler's elite SS units are on a rampage, murdering anyone in opposition to their leader, especially members of the paramilitary SA and its leader Ernst Röhm.
Max (Geoff Knox) and Rudy (Antonio DeJesus) are gay lovers who live together in a squalid apartment in Berlin eking out a living any way they can, legal or otherwise. Max is recovering from yet another deadly hangover as Rudy flitters about cleaning up the apartment, making breakfast and driving Max to distraction with a never-ending babble of small talk and radio music. Wolf (Nate Homolka), a stranger to Max, enters the room and wishes to take up the romance with the two from the previous evening.
Their revelry comes to an abrupt halt when loud knocking is heard at the door. Thinking that it is their landlord there to demand their overdue rent, they try to ignore it. Suddenly, two armed and uniformed Nazi SS members burst in and capture Wolf whom they quickly kill as Max and Rudy take to the streets in their night clothes. They seek sanctuary with Greta (a transvestite who does a popular nightclub act) who fills them in on the details. It seems that Wolf was the "boy toy" of none other than Chief of Staff Ernst Röhm who has already been hunted down and murdered that night.
For some time Max and Rudy are able to evade those who are hunting them, but they are eventually sent to a death camp.
This is hard-hitting theater, with numerous scenes where the shock value is ratcheted up to its highest possible point. All actors are totally convincing in their roles, be they victim or tormentor.
Geoff Knox is the perfect Max, whose buff body and continental manners are a perfect disguise for his sinister and apathetic side. Antonio DeJesus is the gentle souled Rudy who suddenly has his world turned against him as he runs to survive. Although Nate Homolka's appearance as Wolf is brief, his stage presence lingers long after, with two additional roles as the Officer and Kapo. David Bugher does double duty as Uncle Freddy and the concentration camp Captain (two diametrically opposed roles) and does splendid work with both. Luke Ehlert does a convincing turn as a guard.
The lighting design by Benjamin Gantose is superb, as he creates a suffocating atmosphere that leads up to a shocking ending. Likewise, the minimalistic stage set by Aaron Benson uses just enough material to convey a much deeper feeling. Director Matthew Wright does an amazing job in his pacing of this tight drama. Special mention must also be made of the excellent use of Steve Shack's projections that really add to the drama.
The first act of the over two-hour play (with intermission) flies by while the second act is deliberately drawn out to convey a feeling of hopelessness. You may find yourselves squirming in your seat.
Bent, through July 1, 2018, at The Beck Center for the Arts' Studio Theater, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood OH. Tickets may be purchased online by going to www.beckcenter.org or by phone by calling 216-521-2540.