Martin Sherman’s best-known work, Bent, fits in both the categories of gay literature and Holocaust literature. Prior to Bent, there had been virtually no inclusion of gays in discussions about the Holocaust. Therefore, it had a groundbreaking impact when it was first staged off-Broadway in 1978; an impact that continued when the play was performed in London the next year and then finally brought to Broadway. Although the play has flaws, the uniqueness of the story line and the strength of its message about tolerance, love, and human dignity made the play successful. In fact, it was nominated for both a Pulitzer and a Tony in 1980.
The time period of the play is also different from most other Holocaust literature. Rather than being set during World War II, the story begins in 1934 when Hitler’s purge of his Storm Troopers (SA) coincidentally led to the persecution of gays since the head of the SA was gay and his fall provided an excuse for going after other homosexuals. The play continues into 1936, when most of the world still had no idea that any concentration camps existed.
The subject matter, nudity, and verbal sex in the play were controversial enough, but Bent ignited further controversy with its suggestion that the gays suffered more than the Jews during the Holocaust. Debate continues among historians about the situation of each group under the Nazis. In the meantime, the play was staged in more than thirty countries during the 1980s and continues to be produced by community theaters across the United States. As a book, the play is available as a 1979 publication of Samuel French, Inc.