Whether or not author Martin Sherman can carry us all the way to the blistering climax of "Bent," he's got a powerful sense of theater going for two-thirds of his bizarre, bloody journey. Along the way he may be willing to use the tricky surprises of suspense melodrama to make sure we're startled to attention, but he never uses them cheaply.
In a homosexual pad—the language and atmosphere seem entirely contemporary—two friends and lovers are recovering from a night's bout with liquor, cocaine and sado-masochistic sex. (pp. 73-4)
[But suddenly we're caught up in the] bloodbath that overtook German homosexuals…. From now on being homosexual would be held one degree lower than being Jewish….
[The two lovers escape but are eventually] caught and clapped into a filthy boxcar … headed for Dachau….
[Max is] forced into a brilliantly realized bout of violence that is original, complex, sickening, and utterly plausible all at once…. [He] is so overcome by shame and self-hatred, by disgust at what he is doing to preserve himself, that he slips over into uncontrollable rage: rage that he can only take out on the friend he is helping to kill….
I'm not going to describe an equally disturbing event that follows [the death of his friend]; the open sound of dismay that washed across the auditorium on the night I saw "Bent" was one I have never quite heard...
(The entire section is 513 words.)