In an ideal North Carolina, I would not be writing this column, and there’d be no need for Queen City Theatre to open Martin Sherman’s “Bent” in Charlotte next Thursday – except, perhaps, as a period piece, the way we now watch plays about slavery.
But this is the state we’re in:
A 22-year-old man has accused his former Rutherford County church of holding him against his will, while he was physically and emotionally abused because he is gay.
The pastor of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden recently gave a sermon about his plan to eliminate homosexuals: Isolate them behind an electric fence, feed them and wait for them to die.
Opponents of gay marriage complain that, if homosexuals are allowed to wed, people may next ask to marry beasts of the field. (And their view of Amendment One prevails.)
Martin Sherman’s 1982 play, nominated for a Tony Award when Richard Gere starred in it, takes place in Nazi Germany during and after the Knight of the Long Knives, the three-day period in 1934 when the Nazi regime carried out a series of politically inspired murders.
Though Sherman is Jewish, this isn’t another play about Jews suffering during the Holocaust. It’s about a different group that was systematically brutalized: homosexuals, whose behavior was against the law and who were forced to wear pink triangles for identification. (That law hadn’t been enforced much before Hitler, but he used it to eliminate “undesirables.”)
Max (whom Gere played) is a wealthy gay Berliner whose “deviant” lifestyle gets him assigned to the Dachau concentration camp. There he identifies himself as a Jew, believing that will make him less likely to be killed, but falls in love with a male prisoner.
The play opened on Broadway at the height of the Gay Rights Movement. Glenn Griffin, who’s directing this production, plans to take “a modern approach to (it).”
“The play will be set during Nazi Germany, but there will be a modern tone. This play still speaks to a modern audience: Homosexuals are still trying to find equal rights in America. In other countries such as Uganda, homosexuals are being tortured and killed just trying to get a foothold in equal rights.” (Details: www.queencitytheatre.com.)
He believes “Bent” will be as relevant now as when it was first produced. Sadly, I’d have to agree. We couch our disapproval of homosexuals in politer terms, but we’re comfortable expressing it.
And here’s a final thought: Virtually all the non-Jewish people in Nazi Germany would have identified themselves as Christians. How they managed to align their brutality with the teachings of Jesus I have no idea, but they worshipped in his churches and praised his name.
Read more of Lawrence Toppman’s blog, State of the Art, at charlotteobserver.com/arts.