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Rants, Raves and Reviews: Haunting on Halloween: BENT by Martin Sherman

Vancouver, BC:  It is fitting that Meta.for Theatre opened its production of Sherman's play, BENT, on Halloween night. Though first produced in 1978, and set in pre-world war II Germany, this powerful play evokes the ghosts of the millions who were killed because they were Jewish, homosexual, disabled, or otherwise "different" as well the millions more who died in action on land, or in sea or sky. In Vancouver on Halloween night the dead walked among us again with their plea to "never forget". And although the events of this play and The Holocaust that followed, happened years before most of the cast and crew were born, and even before I was born, indeed we must never forget.

As Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of this young theatre company, Meta.for Theatre, and as mother of Amanda Lockitch, director of Bent, it is hard for me to view this production objectively so I won't comment on the show. You will simply have to see it for yourself. But as I am not Martin Sherman's mom, I see no conflict in writing about a few impressions that stand out for me about Sherman's script.

For starters, Sherman's protagonist, Maximilian Berber is not a sympathetic character. A psychologically damaged man, estranged from his family for his overt homosexuality, he uses cocaine, drinks himself into oblivion and flaunts his promiscuity before his current lover, Rudy, a hapless, naive dancer. Having been made to believe that "Queers aren't meant to love," Max is unable to accept himself for whom he is and rejects all overtures of love. Ultimately he has to learn to love himself before he can accept that he is worthy of the love of others. And we have to accompany him on his journey to understand the forces that made him what he is, so that we are emotionally with him for his ultimate redemption.

The journey that Max undertakes to self-acceptance occurs against the backdrop of pre-war Germany, 1934 to 1936, when homosexuals, political prisoners and Jews were deported to labour camps. Sherman shows us how ordinary people are empowered by authority to commit acts of unspeakable cruelty on their neighbors, and the awful power of uniforms to exacerbate that sense of power and simultaneously cow the victims and observers into silent submission.

The third aspect that stands out for me is the ongoing mandate to remember. Six decades have passed since the end of the war and the "physical liberation" of survivors from the death camps. For many, emotional and psychological liberation has never been possible. They remember – those few that still survive. But two or three new generations have been born since the Holocaust occurred. Birth and death is the natural cycle of life and in our hearts each of us remembers our own dead. But the manner in which so many millions were killed in The Holocaust is so beyond the realm of comprehension that we cannot leave it to others to remember. Nothing like the callous systematic slaughter of groups of people should ever happen again. Yet think of the systematic slaughter taking place in Africa right now.

In the haunting song that is the leitmotif of this production, Sherman suggests that it is incumbent on every one of us to cry out lest the memories of those who died vanish - into thin air. As we watch his powerfully emotive play, the dead walk again – and we remember.