Martin Sherman Brendan Gill - Essay

Brendan Gill

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

To be overly ambitious is a good failing in a young and gifted playwright, and I am quick to forgive Martin Sherman for most of the flaws in "Bent" …, a play that is well worth our serious attention. Mr. Sherman has tried to tell two or three stories at once, and sometimes the working out of their plots leads not to enlightenment but to collision, and yet what passionate, blood-drenched theatre he offers us along the way!… "Bent"'s curtain rises on a flaw: in what comes close to being a mere prank, the playwright seeks to conceal from us that the opening scene—a homosexual household on the morning after a night of drunken partygoing—though it appears at first to be laid in the present,… is in fact laid in Berlin in the early nineteen-thirties…. No doubt Sherman hoped that this introductory juggling with place and time would serve to indicate the universality and duration of the homosexual "problem," but it gets the play off to a false start….

"Bent" has two main themes: homosexual love and the nature of survival. Max is an incessant flirt, who finds himself incapable of love and who affects to believe that love is beyond all homosexuals; he fails, in the celebrated phrase of E. M. Forster, to connect…. To his horror, Max finds himself being made to act as the not altogether unwilling instrument of Rudy's death…. In the grim isolation of Dachau, he chooses a new lover, Horst, whose amorous advances he then for a while rejects. Both men suffer horrifying fates as the play ends, but the message of the play isn't a despairing one: Max finally elects not to survive, because he perceives that he has become capable of love. His death is a form of connection.

After the bustling, highly colored melodrama of the first act of "Bent," we are confronted in the second act with a gray aridity of word and gesture that puts us in mind of Beckett. (p. 100)

Brendan Gill, "Surviving," in The New Yorker (© 1979 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. LV, No. 44, December 17, 1979, pp. 100-02.∗