Martin Sherman John Simon - Essay

John Simon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There are two main troubles with Bent: It is melodrama—bad enough—worsening into mushiness in Act II, and it is all utterly ahistorical and preposterous, a kind of combination homosexual wet dream and Steigian dream of glory. In the first, or melodramatic, act, there is still some competence; at least Sherman knows how to keep the story moving along, how to cut his scenes short to achieve a nervous hurtling forward, and how to sprinkle the proceedings with the pepper of violence and the salt of tearfulness. But credibility goes out through the fourth wall from the outset….

I am perfectly willing to believe in diabolic Nazis and homosexuals only a little lower than the angels, but a play made up of only these forfeits all claims to serious art and aspires at best to slick commercialism.

Bent, however, fails even in those terms. In Act II, Max and Horst, his new love, are in Dachau, obliged to pile up rocks on the left, then lug and heap them up on the right—back and forth, ad infinitum, ostensibly to drive them crazy. (p. 110)

On this rocky road to romance, Horst converts Max back to humanity and true love…. [However,] (in Dachau, you worried about survival, not sex), this is also distasteful. Not because it is homosexual, but because this kind of brute sex talk eludes the powers of even the greatest writers (from whom Sherman is several light-years away) to make it compelling…. However, even this is not the chief fiasco of Bent; that is attained in Max's narrative of how he proved his heterosexuality to the Nazis (which I'll spare you) and in the final scenes of sentimental heroics worthy of Hollywood at its worst. (pp. 110-11)

John Simon, "Campy Dachau, Plywood Mahogany," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1979, by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 12, No. 49, December 17, 1979, pp. 110-11.