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If, and I by no means wish for this to happen, we all get put back into concentration camps, there should be a special patch (e.g., green triangle = criminal, yellow star = Jewish, pink triangle = homosexual) for theatre directors who can take a perfectly good script with better-than-adequate actors and then screw it all up with their “concepts.”

I recommend a green triangle in a black box (or square).

London theatres have recently launched revivals of WWII stories. Cabaret will officially open later this week, and I shared my thoughts on it a couple weeks ago. Hopefully they've all found their groove for first night.

Down the road, Alan Cumming is currently taking his “I got my star” turn at Trafalgar Studios in a moving, if not often overwrought, revival of Martin Sherman’s gut wrenching play Bent.

It’s an amazing script, calling for the actors to take a brutal journey from a life of concentrated camp to life in a concentration camp. It’s also the story of one of the most self-serving, manipulative, ego-driven survivalists in theatrical history.

Alan Cumming’s Max will do most anything to survive, including denouncing his lovers, his lifestyle, and ultimately himself. It is a horrific situation he finds himself in … knowing he’s a gay man in a caste where a pink triangle is the lowest badge on the totem pole. A badge he himself will commit unimaginable crimes in order to avoid.

Cumming delivers as the distraught Max, although there are a number of “oh wait, watch me act” moments that could be tightened up. Every person who’s ever taking an acting class has been told to “take their moment”, not to rush whatever emotion their working towards. In a pivotal confession at the end of Act One, Mr. Cumming could have been directed to take a few less moments of hand wringing and nose wiping and get on with the monologue. Once he gets there, he’s electrifying.

Newcomer Chris New, as Horst, gives an equally heartbreaking performance, despite falling into the yelling trap a few too many times.

Throughout the production, there’s a heightened sense of melodrama. And, given the subject matter, I’m not sure that’s entirely out of place. But for heaven’s sake guys, can’t anybody remember that there are more ways to show anger/frustration/despair/rage/etc WITHOUT CONSTANTLY SCREAMING AT EACH OTHER? The director (Daniel Kramer) is only 29, surely he’s not hard of hearing already? There were so many times when I thought I was watching young, testosterone-fueled acting students screaming early John Patrick Shanley scenes at each other.

Pay no attention to the script that gives you lines such as “don’t touch me, they’ll see us” while in a campgournd, and then yell at each other like you’re George and Martha stropping around the campfire.

Heed not the text that says “don’t joke” immediately after your “not now I have a headache” line … go ahead and make it really angsty and angry and without any humor at all.

Never mind that there are SS officers nearby, watching every your move, waiting to shoot you. Jump right into that screaming match.

There were a number of moments when I was tempted to shout either “Stop Acting!” or “Stop Shouting!”.

That said, Max does have a beautifully quiet moment in Act Two, while sitting amongst his stones, as if he was in his garden. I thought for certain he was going to begin quoting Bette Davis’ Judith Traherne in Dark Victory. Melodramatic indeed.

Like Cabaret, Bent is a script that works on its own. It doesn’t need Alan Cumming’s ass flashed (twice) for a cheap joke that is ignored 15 minutes later (if it’s too sore to sit on now, it’s gonna be a little sore an hour later). It doesn’t need 8-foot tall gas jet of flame during a scene change, that immediately withers into an eternal-flamelike campfire for Max and Rudy (an adorable yet tragically devoted Kevin Trainor). It certainly doesn’t need Keystone Gestapo officers acting like crazed circus clowns.

Is there some rule in British theatre that you can only portray Nazis as retarded clown or cartwheeling gymnasts? I realize they are not likeable characters, but isn’t that inherent in the script and/or history?

Perhaps the director is equating his version of Nazi soldiers with the brutal “let’s make this a party” soldiers that have come to light in such cases at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. If that’s the case, then yes, there are indeed correlations. Do certain directors not trust their audiences enough to see this? Must they hit us over the head with their allegories, at the expense of a tighter show?

No such overt references were necessary in the RSC’s recent production of The Crucible or in the Donmar’s Mary Stuart. I left those productions depressed about the social situations that still happen hundreds of years later (corruption, moral and political turpitude, modern-day witch hunts). I left this production (as well as Cabaret) upset about unnecessary staging excesses.

Speaking of unnecessary staging ... how about putting a bitter old (whose shouting makes us realize she's VERY ANGRY) drag queen downstage left, playing the whole post-performance scene into her dressing room mirror. That way everybody on stage never really gets to make eye contact, they can just play their scene into the imaginary angle of the invisible looking glass. Ugh.

That said, Bent definitely worth seeing (Cabaret notsomuch), especially if you don’t know or have not seen the play. And like the new Cabaret, you get a healthy dose of full-frontal … although the playful Kit Kat chorus boy trumps the tall German wearing nothing but Gestapo boots and a black cock ring.

Clearly, shaved heads were di rigeur for men in concentration camps. I’m not so sure if shaved pubes and balls were quite as authentic, or necessary, for German soldiers.

Oh, and if you don't think they're marketing this for modern-day camp boys, make sure to check out the "boys from bent" photoshoot in the Gallery section of the Bent website. A cast in white pants -- totally related to the show.