The character of Maximilian Berber in Martin Sherman’s play Bent not only carries the story, he is the story. Bent is about a wheeling-dealing homosexual, Max, whose promiscuity and drug use keep him in trouble. When the play opens, he is broke, behind on his rent, and unaware that he has seduced a Nazi storm trooper who is being hunted by the Gestapo. When SS soldiers raid their apartment, Max and his lover, Rudy, begin a life-and-death odyssey that will affect Max’s very heart and soul.
There are so many contradiction in Max’s behavior that the question arises as to whether the character is believable. However, people are complex creatures who are not always consistent in their behavior. The central conflict for Max is the concept of love, and love is a complex subject, too. Max does not believe in love, he does not think he is worthy of love, and he does not love anybody, he says. Sherman reveals in snips of information that Max fell in love with a boy at his father’s factory when he was a teenager. His wealthy and powerful father, horrified at this homosexual affair, paid Max’s lover to go away. As Max explained, ‘‘He went. Queers aren’t meant to love.’’ It is simple logic: if the boy had loved Max, he would not have left; since he did leave, he did not love Max and that must be because ‘‘Queers aren’t meant to love.’’ Perhaps it also means to Max that homosexuals in general are not allowed to love because specifically his father would not allow him to love.
Max has watched his Uncle Freddie hide his homosexuality all his life to keep from scandal. In rebellion, Max has flaunted his homosexuality. Although Max does not appear to have any crusading or noble intent, he nonetheless has defied his family to be true to himself, even if it means being disowned. For someone as concerned as Max about making deals for big money, this refusal to knuckle under to his family seems a strange contradiction. However, it is understandable when one considers the possibility that his openness about being gay is intended to hurt his father, even if it hurts himself.
Rudy loves Max, but Max has no appreciation of this fact. It is a convenience to have Rudy around to clean and cook and remind Max how badly he behaved the night before. Max is even foolish enough to think that Rudy likes Max to bring home other men. Despite this wretched treatment of Rudy, Max takes responsibility for him at Greta’s urging as Greta accurately assesses that Rudy is too naïve to take care of himself in their treacherous situation. Max seemed ready to leave Rudy behind as he started his escape from Berlin. It seems odd that he could so easily be chastised into taking Rudy with him. It has been suggested that because Rudy was so weak and knew so much about Max that Max realized that he had to keep Rudy with him to keep Rudy from informing on him. However, Max knew that he was already wanted, and that he was clever enough to get away to some place that Rudy would not know. So, that theory does not hold, especially since Max refused to go to the safety of Amsterdam without Rudy. He even went so far as to offer to give up Rudy and return to the family business in exchange for safe passage for Rudy. The reason for this loyalty comes at the end of the play when Max drops all of his pretenses and emotional walls and admits that he loved Rudy. It is likely that Max did not even know himself that he loved Rudy when he was making all those sacrifices for him. The phony front that he put up was so convincing that he had fooled even himself. If Max had not had a real love for Rudy, why then would he have blocked out Rudy’s name after being forced to participate in Rudy’s murder? Most likely, the memory loss was a traumatic amnesia.
Since Max was so open about his lifestyle among his friends and had endured the condemnation of his family for being gay, it is hard to understand why he was so determined to pass himself off as Jewish to the Gestapo. Perhaps the bottom line with Max was his own survival. He was gay while it was easy to be gay. Although he...
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In Bent, Max, who is the main character and supposed hero of the drama, is not heroic but rather is soft and weak. Max is generally selfish, uncaring, and mean. Even the moments where he seems kind often serve his own agenda. While Max makes deals to survive, he also ensures that he will not have to be on his own. When he finally comes to terms with himself in a deeper sense, it is only in one aspect: his homosexuality.
In contrast, two of the men Max is involved with are much more likable, honest, real, and heroic. Rudy and Horst are open about their homosexuality and about their lives in general. Both are nurturers who take care of Max in his own way. Both are loyal and caring and have strong characters. Rudy and Horst do not make deals and try to get out of uncomfortable situations like Max does; they want to confront them. They try to make the best of what they have, while dealing with Max and the problems that he brings. The pair patiently educate Max, who was raised in wealth but disowned by his family for his open—though somewhat superficial—embracing of a homosexual lifestyle.
That Max lives openly as a gay man is one of his strongest points. Max has not married a woman and had affairs with men on the side, which is what Max’s uncle (Freddie) has done in order to remain in good standing with the family. Though Max’s uncle supports Max by getting him a ticket and papers out of the country and sending him money in the camp, Max’s uncle is a fraud who lives a dishonest life. Although Max is honest in the beginning about his sexuality, this character point is tempered because Max does not admit he loves the men he is involved with and later denies his homosexuality when faced with harsher treatment at the work camp. Max would rather wear a yellow star, which indicates that he is Jewish, than a pink triangle, which indicates he is homosexual.
It is also telling that Max cannot stand to be alone and not have some sort of homosexual relationship. Max has been living with Rudy for some time, perhaps years, but later on cannot remember his name. When Greta tells Max not to leave Rudy after the Nazis storm their apartment, it is somewhat for Rudy’s benefit. Greta believes that Rudy would not survive on his own and tells Max to take care of him. Though Max is compelled to stay with Rudy, Max also benefits from the situation. Max does not have to face the world alone. Max tries to deny that he needs a relationship with Rudy or any man for that matter. In act 1, scene 3, Max will not take the single ticket and papers that will take him out of Germany and to Amsterdam. Instead, Max asks Freddie to obtain another ticket and papers for Rudy. Max will not admit the importance of his relationship with Rudy. Max tells his uncle ‘‘I just feel responsible.’’ Max’s issue seems to be more about being alone, for if he was traveling alone within Germany or out of the country, it would increase his chances of survival.
After Rudy dies, Max immediately begins a relationship with Horst. Max takes risks to get Horst assigned to his work detail by using the money his uncle sent him to bribe the guard so that Max can interact with him. To keep Horst alive when he becomes ill, Max performs a sexual act on a captain to obtain medicine for him. This inadvertently leads to Horst’s death as the captain assumed Max was a heterosexual Jew and to perform such an act would humiliate him. When the Nazi figures out that Max is probably gay and did it for Horst’s benefit, the captain kills Horst. Finally, alone with no potential relationships in sight, Max kills himself. While he does don Horst’s jacket with the pink triangle on it before his suicide, a symbolic acceptance of his homosexuality, he also admits he does not even want to try to survive on his own as a gay man. Max is not willing to take any punishment from the Nazis for his homosexuality. He instead inflicts harm on himself by walking into the electric fence and ending his life.
Max readily admits his faults. He tells Horst in act 1, scene 6 ‘‘I’m a rotten person.’’ Max makes his living doing shady deals, including selling drugs. Though he lives with Rudy and is in a relationship with him, Max brings home a man, Wolf, whom he met at Rudy’s place of employment. This incident is after Max got so drunk that he does not remember what he did or how Wolf got there. Max and Rudy are forced to go on the run because of Wolf. Wolf was involved with a Nazi German official who was on the outs with Nazi leader Adolph Hitler and Wolf was arrested by the SS. If Max had not been so selfish in his actions the night before the play begins, Max and Rudy might have survived and continued in their normal lives.
Despite Max’s many flaws, Rudy remains loyal. Rudy tells Max ‘‘I love you’’ in act 1, scene 1, even though Max embarrassed him at work and had sex with another man in their home....
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Bent begins on an infamous night in gay history: June 29, 1934, also known as ‘‘The Night of the Long Knives.’’ On this night, the Nazis purged Germany’s old leadership and with it all of Hitler’s political opponents. The purge resulted from political quarrellings between Nazi leaders subordinate to Hitler. Most notable to Sherman’s play is the struggle between Heinrich Himmler and Ernst Röhm. Röhm was the head of the powerful Sturmabteilung leadership (SA) and, as it was, he was the leader of the only viable threat to Hitler’s power. The SA was an enormous armed assault division that functioned as the key paramilitary organization of the German Nazi Party. Himmler was aware of Hitler’s suspicion of Röhm...
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Bent is a play about a pile of rocks, and it will hit you like a ton of bricks.
Twenty-four years after Richard Gere brought Martin Sherman’s revolutionary piece of playwriting to Broadway, the devastating story of how Nazis killed both time and gays in the Dachau camp retains a timeless ability to deliver a jolt as lethal as one from an electric fence.
Perhaps that’s because in America, of all the groups singled out for extinction by the Nazis 60 years ago, only homosexuals remain subjected to the societal ambivalence that still allows for condoned acts of violence and discrimination against them.
Evidence of the modern-day persecution of gays is only as hard to find as a newspaper....
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There is an historical irony to the adoption of the pink triangle as one of the symbols of the gay and lesbian rights movement. We have actually known very little about what happened to gays and lesbians under the Nazis in the years 1933 to 1945. Our memory is in fact ‘‘empty memory,’’ in the words of Klaus Muller, a gay consulting historian to Washington’s Holocaust Memorial Museum. Muller uses that term because we are not ‘‘haunted by concrete memories of those who were forced to wear [pink triangles] in the camps.’’
In his introduction to the new edition of The Men with the Pink Triangle, Muller notes that gays and lesbians have been among the ‘‘forgotten victims’’ of the Holocaust,...
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