BENT: Being Cruel – When Love Is A Scary Thing

Spoiler Alert: Some Plot Details Revealed

Cruelty comes in different forms. We can’t escape the obvious in BENT: the unimaginable inhumane cruelty of The Nazi Party towards Gays and Jews. Yet, we see more than the Nazi’s cruelty in this brilliantly acted, honest, heart wrenching, and inspiring play (written by Martin Sherman and directed by Moises Kaufman >now playing at the Mark Taper Forum ). We see other kinds of cruelty as well. Cruelty directed towards someone else when you’re scared to love. Cruelty aimed at yourself when you can’t accept who you are.

BENT, set in 1934 Berlin where many were openly gay and lesbian at the time, features Max (Patrick Heusinger), who is not at all at home with his sexuality. He lives with Rudy (Will Taylor), but can’t admit he loves him. As open as Rudy is in his love for Max – Max treats Rudy with callous disregard, always holding him at arms length.

Max convinces himself he doesn’t love Rudy. He makes Rudy feel the same terrible things he feels about himself. He does this with the ways he tries to escape from his confusion. With his blackout drinking and his promiscuity, one-night stands he inflicts on Rudy. Bringing men home. Leaving Rudy out. Making Rudy feel unwanted. As if he means nothing to Max.

Many people are like Max – afraid to love. Overcome by self-hatred for being what they are or wanting anything at all. Tragically, the last man Max flaunts in front of Rudy puts them under the Nazi’s radar. After Rudy’s death, a death Max is complicit in, in several ways, he admits he loved him. But he can’t remember Rudy’s name.

Forgetting Rudy is really about Max’s denial of who he is and what he wants. He’s been running from his confused feelings for a long time. Mostly, he hates himself for needing Rudy’s love. And, this he has to face in Dachau. In a lonely, terrifying place where there’s no escape. No getting out. No alcohol, or drugs, or sex to hide from how he feels.

In Dachau, he’s unbearably lonely. His task is to move rocks back and forth, aimlessly, like Sisyphus. Not up a mountain, but it might as well be. The mountain Max has to surmount is his cruelty towards himself and anyone he might love. He plays this out again with Horst (Charlie Hofheimer). He needs Horst. They need each other.  Max pretends he doesn’t care.  But, this time, he can’t escape.

With Horst’s help, Max finally accepts his love for men. And, silently, secretly, known only to the two of them, they make love in their minds and in their hearts. In this way – in his hard won self-acceptance and in death – Max is finally emotionally free. Free to love whoever he wants to love.

In Max’s victory, the horrifying historical picture BENT paints has its inspiration. BENT transcends genocide. Its message reverberates as we reluctantly walk away. Love is sometimes scary. Self-acceptance can be difficult to reach. But love is human and essential. We must do all we can to overcome its barriers, including various cruelties that get in its way.

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