WHERE: Confetti Stage, The Albany Barn, 56 Second St., Albany
WHEN: Through June 15
HOW MUCH: $15
MORE INFO: 460-1167, confettistage.org
It’s June, LGBT Pride Month, an apt occasion to see Confetti Stage’s well-done production of “Bent,” Martin Sherman’s 1979 play about the gay community swallowed up in the Holocaust.
The story concerns the coming-out of Max (Tom Dickson), a young German man who, under the influence of alcohol and cocaine, picks up men with fictitious stories about himself. When the play opens, that’s all he can do: fabricate in order to avoid facing the truth about his sexuality.
Both he and his live-in lover, a dancer named Rudy (Brian McBride-Land), find themselves swept up in the Night of the Long Knives (the 1934 purge by Hitler of his enemies), from which they briefly escape. Max looks to his gay uncle, Freddie (a fine Jon South), for help with passports out of Germany, but before that happens, Max and Rudy are captured and sent to Dachau.
It’s here, through a number of violent events and the attentions of a gay prisoner, Horst (Matthew Side), that Max is forced to confront, and accept, who he is. And the moment of acceptance is a shock for the audience.
Sherman’s script is episodic, which sometimes hinders our emotional involvement, but the stage crew’s efficient transformation of the set minimizes the stop-start nature of the show.
Imaginatively directed by Barbara Davis-Dickman and played on three levels in the auditorium at The Barn, this staging puts the bleak Dachau scenes on the floor, in the audience, giving them more power than they might have had in a more conventional treatment. The lighting by Nick Nealon and David DiPaola, Winn Juntley’s sound design, and Debbie Lummis’s costumes successfully evoke the period and the proceedings.
If you think you already know a lot about the horrors of concentration camp life, you’ll learn yet more chilling details here. For example, Dickson movingly describes how Max earned his “gold star” instead of a pink triangle, a macabre sense of triumph in his tone. There is a hierarchy among the prisoners: Better to be identified as Jewish than homosexual. And as two Dachau Nazi enforcers, Stephen Henel and Jonathan Pate make their savagery memorable.
Matthew Side credibly captures the sweetness and dry humor of Horst, a man who becomes the teacher Max needs to learn life’s most important lesson. Dickson believably captures Max’s dual nature: Despite his struggles to identify as a gay man, he puts himself on the line for the men he’s involved with. And McBride-Land gives a bold, three-dimensional performance as a skittery artiste, someone capable of love but looking for it in all the wrong places.
The always spot-on JJ Buechner as Greta, a heterosexual drag queen; Richard Sagendorf as Wolfgang, a member of the SA; Brian Toal as a Nazi; and Sheila O’Shea as Kapo, ably round out the cast.
Confetti Stage normally performs at the Masonic Hall, and will again in October for its short play festival. Between now and then the troupe will offer “The Tempest” in the garden at Ten Broeck Mansion in August. If you’re not familiar with their work, take a look at this thought-provoking play in the month in which it has particular resonance.