Martin Sherman Robert Brustein - Essay

Robert Brustein

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Bent] doesn't suffer from a lack of seriousness; its missing element is depth. Martin Sherman's play about the treatment of homosexuals in German prison camps has been carefully researched and modestly written. It just hasn't been sufficiently imagined. In the hands of a better dramatist, it might have been a major play; here, at best, it is merely an interesting one. I was reminded of Rolf Hochhuth's The Deputy, another work that failed an original idea because the playwright was not enough of an artist to realize the implications of his subject.

It is the imagination of King Lear's author that is needed for a subject of this kind; most of us simply do not have the resources to fictionalize such unbearable facts. This may be why Sherman—having conceived the situation—goes on to ruin it in the second act by turning his play into a love story with a melodramatic conclusion….

[The heroic conclusion betrays] the real nature of the camps, where inmates were robbed of the capacity to fall in love, or have orgasms, or even to commit suicide…. It was in their capacity to reduce human beings to ciphers that the Nazis were the most precise and methodical—a diabolical distinction recorded with more accuracy in the works of Bruno Bettelheim and Hannah Arendt than in the tendentious artifices of a New York playwright….

Still, the subject is a potentially interesting one, and it has not been wholly trivialized. The failure, at least, is not of nerve or daring, which alone makes the play an oddity in a theater for clever journalists. (p. 24)

Robert Brustein, "A Theatre for Clever Journalists," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1980 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 182, Nos. 1 & 2, January 5 & 12, 1980, pp. 23-4.