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Review Roundup: BENT, Starring Patrick Heusinger, Jake Shears and Andy Mientus, Opens in Los Angeles

Martin Sherman's BENT, a groundbreaking drama about the rare power of love in the most inhumane conditions, opened at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum last Sunday, July 26, 2015. Directed by Moisés Kaufman, performances for BENT will continue through August 23.

The cast for BENT includes Hugo Armstrong ("Waiting for Godot," Taper; "The Behavior of Broadus"), Ray Baker ("Torch Song Trilogy," Broadway; "What Lies Beneath," film), Tom Berklund (recent Broadway "A Chorus Line"; tour of "The Normal Heart"), Matthew Carlson, Brionne Davis, Wyatt Fenner, Patrick Heusinger ("Next Fall," Broadway; "Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce," on Bravo), Charlie Hofheimer ("The Lyons" and "On the Waterfront," Broadway), Andy Mientus ("LES MISERABLES," Broadway; "Smash," NBC), Jake Shears (lead singer for Scissor Sisters), Brian Slaten and Jonathan B. Wright.

Set in Germany in the 1930s, BENT follows the struggles of gay men trying to survive in Nazi Germany, in particular two men who, in the midst of the darkest moments of mankind, manage to give and receive love and find strength in each other. The Taper production is the first major U.S. revival of BENT since the Broadway premiere in 1979, when it was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: Moisés Kaufman's muscular revival of "Bent"...renders what many had written off as a parochial drama about the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany into a gripping tale of love, courage and identity that today can be universally appreciated for its enduring theatrical power...Kaufman's direction, making canny use of Beowulf Boritt's stark and nimble set, precisely calibrates not just the acting of this first-rate company but the dramatic intensity of a work that in the wrong hands can be a punishing experience for theatergoers...the hushed quality of the staging here allows us to keep track of the inward drama of the characters without ever losing sight of the brutality of their situation. Somehow the play makes room for humor, even if the campy sort quickly morphs into the gallows variety..."Bent" is a very ambitious play that tries to do a little too much. With so much going on, there isn't time to fully examine Max's character...Fortunately, Heusinger is able to wring an enormous amount from Max's reticence...The play's shorthand theatricality doesn't paint a realistic portrait, but the way the production humanizes these victims of genocide ultimately make atrocities, past and present, all the more real.

Frances Baum Nicholson, L.A. Daily News: Every once in a while, there is an opportunity to see a great play that has become more historically important than just a play. If done well, the experience not only offers the power and wonder of something well-written and well-performed, but a kind of awe for all it has taught and still has to teach about humanity, history, and the nature of the human heart. The production of Martin Sherman's "Bent" at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles is one such opportunity...Patrick Heusinger embodies Max's dualities - the ferocious need to control and to win, with a softness he cannot recognize - in ways which prove at first funny, then desperate, and then riveting. There is an inner wildness in his portrayal that seems held down by effort to try to manage the world. Andy Mientus makes the fragile Rudy radiate with an inner sweetness one knows will be gobbled up by everything society around him is becoming...Director Moises Kaufman has concentrated on the conflicted humanness of it all, giving the entire play an intimacy even in the comparative openness of Beowulf Boritt's elemental, implied sets...this play is powerful in part because it does not shirk either the brutality or sexuality of its basic themes.

Kevin Taft, EDGE Los Angeles: "Bent" is a simple story, mightily told. Its power comes in its language and the heart wrenching situations these men are forced to endure. Each actor in the ensemble shines with Heusinger, Mientus, and Hofheimer rising to the top with the most prominent roles. Shears dazzles with his show-stopping number (that he co-wrote with Lance Horne and Sherman), but the role of Greta is really no more than a cameo. The play really belongs to Heusinger, who navigates a whole lifetime of emotions that tear your heart out...the performances and dialogue surpass those flaws giving us a horrific look inside a time that is hard to forget. We still see the shades of this prejudice and bigotry today and can only wonder what might be the tipping point that could make something like this happen again.

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Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz

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