Zeitgeist Stage is honoring the 35th anniversary of the Holocaust play, BENT, Martin Sherman’s frightening, ultimately redemptive play about the gay men who perished, along with the Jews and gypsies, in Hitler’s concentration camps. Director David Miller’s production (running through Oct. 11th) features two powerful performances by Victor L. Shopov and Brooks Reeves as the imprisoned men who will be each other’s salvation.
Zeitgeist is known for its tightly knit, compact productions in the Black Box at the BCA. For BENT they have moved to the comparatively spacious Plaza theater, next to the box space but with the move come some complications. The first scene in Max’s living room makes it seem like a sprawling penthouse. Just using the imaginary bathroom takes precious seconds to get offstage. And placing the decadent, cross-dressed cabaret chanteuse (whom Miller uses for running satirical effect) in front of the apartment space puts “Greta” much too close to the audience.
Some opening weekend jitters distracted from the story early on but by the time Shopov and Reeves are the sole players on stage (except for the Nazi guards), the horror and the beauty of their relationship carries the play toward its chilling conclusion. A lovely performance by Robert Bonotto, as Max’s closeted uncle is one of the pleasures of Miller’s productions. Mikey DiLoreto, too, scores points as the dancer who, like the uncle, thinks the Nazis won’t come for him.
Thomas Grenon is terrifying as the sadistic lieutenant who forces Max to perform unspeakable acts in order to save himself. Shopov’s transformation, in response to Reeves’ luminous humanity, more than makes up for the small production problems. This is a major play which deserves to be seen. The German phrase, “Nie wieder” meaning “never again” serves as both apology and pledge but we know full well that it has happened again, all over the world.