A man stopped me as I left the Whitney Theater this evening — “Was that all done by undergraduates?” he asked me in disbelief. Not quite believing it myself, I proudly told him that it was. We had both just seen Bent, and I don’t think either of us knew what to say next.
Bent comes to Yale as the senior project of Connor Lounsbury ’14. Written by Martin Sherman, it tells the oft-untold story of the treatment of homosexuals during the Nazi regime. It can be easy to simply relate the Second World War with Jewish repression, and watching Bent is harrowing, in part, because it is presented as a story that has seemed to escape us altogether. For German homosexuals, the cost of love was death.
The strength of this play lies in the characters and the power of the actors playing them. The all-male cast is comprised of only six actors, but this is all it needs. Sometimes we enlarge the Second World War to an enormity that often glosses over the very individuals who lived through it. Max, played by Lounsbury himself, is the central character, someone struggling to deal with the implications of his homosexuality. He wishes to repress his feelings because “queers aren’t meant to love.” Lounsbury’s performance is hauntingly beautiful because, of course, he should be allowed to love. Max is not a villain, even if his actions may make him look like one.
Tim Creavin ’15 plays Horst, Max’s sole connection within the concentration camp. The two connect in a way that means they do not even need to touch to feel as if they are making love. In fact, the rules of the camp forbid them from doing so. The yearning they have for each other is so real and relatable, and somehow, Creavin and Lounsbury manage to convey the excitement and giddiness of the first moments of love, even in the knowledge of its dire implications.
And, just as they are separated by the rules of the camp, the audience finds itself barred from the stage by the literal barrier of an electric fence. It is a constant reminder that we are in a concentration camp and that these characters are imprisoned. We are forced to be distant, to acknowledge that we are lucky not to be in their situation. We are powerless to stop this. It was part of our history, and something that we should be moved to change.
The culmination of these features makes it hard to attribute Bent’s genius to one particular person or narrative throughout the show. But one must commend director Molly Houlahan ’14 for her decision to craft Bent through an intimately human lens, along with the actors for their brave and authentic portrayals of Sherman’s characters.
No words could describe the incredible sense of awe I felt talking to that man outside of the Whitney Theater, reflecting on the incredible feat that had just been produced by my very peers. Bent, ultimately, finds its strength in its relatability, as each line about love and about life takes on a unique meaning for every member in the audience. But, of all the things I personally learned from Bent, there is one universal takeaway: We should not be scared by love; we should feel honored we have the freedom to fully embrace it.