When Columbia Entertainment Company first discussed doing the play Bent by Martin Sherman I was a bit apprehensive. I wrote it off, thinking that a 1979 drama about gays in the holocaust was walking a thin line that I wasn’t sure CEC could walk. Many of our audiences members haven’t enjoy the darker shows that we’ve done of late, such as Doubt or even Rabbit Hole. While I thought both of these shows were well written, directed, acted and produced, our audiences often reacted that the show wasn’t something they were expecting. I worried a similar reaction to Bent could hurt CEC’s ability to produce such dark shows, especially with competition from other smaller theatre groups in town.
I realized something was different about this show after auditions. While director Meg Phillips only called for 7 roles for men, she was actually able to cast 12 men. This showed me there was a large interest in the show and a strong passion for each of the actors to take a role that had little speaking lines. Many of the ensemble actors have been leads in past CEC and Columbia shows. But, reading their biographies, you could tell that Bent was a show that they wanted to be a part of, regardless of their involvement.
My worries returned during the opening scene when Max, portrayed by Adam McCall, entered the stage wearing not much more than a bathrobe and boxers. This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen Adam on stage in such little of an outfit, but it was also accompanied by Max’s lover Rudy, portrayed by Joshua Johnson, wearing a similar outfit. “Oh, no, ” thought, “it’s going to be an awkward show.” But, that’s when things changed. Adam and Joshua felt so comfortable with each other that it comforted me. Their teasing and flirting was fun. I was even able to laugh, something I wasn’t expecting to happen in this show, at several of the jokes Rudy threw at Max. I thoroughly enjoyed the first act, even with the darker and serious tone it switched to once Max and Rudy were caught by the Nazis.
While the first act was highlighted by two already close friends dealing with a difficult situation, the second act soared to greater heights with two people getting to know each other while trying to overcome insurmountable odds. There was great chemistry between Max and Horst (Nathan O’Neil), where it was easy to see the hours and days of practice that each actor put in to the characters.
I don’t want to go on giving too much detail about this show, but do know that each and every portrayal meant something to each actor. They were there because they wanted this story to be told in Columbia. Even though Bent has been around for over 30 years we believe that this is the first time it has been produced in Columbia. That to me is a testament to the theatre community in this town. My early worries appear to be unfounded. I’m glad that Columbia can support theatre like this.
Bent, at Columbia Entertainment Company (1800 Nelwood), runs for only one more weekend, Thursday through Saturday (3/15-3/17) at 7:30pm and a final Sunday (3/18) matinee at 2:00pm. I strongly encourage you to come check it out.