Bent | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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BENT, Gilead, at the Athenaeum Theatre studio. This intermittently effective revival arrives in the wake of last year's brilliantly acted film version of Martin Sherman's harrowing drama about the Nazi persecution of homosexuals. Mounting the show in the Athenaeum Theatre's small first-floor studio, the Gilead company takes an imaginative but gimmicky approach to the limited space. The first act, depicting a gay Berliner's pursuit and arrest by Hitler's homo-hunting SS, is played in a rough-hewn cabaretlike setting that recalls Brecht's early productions; the Beckett-influenced second half, in which the hero and a fellow death-camp prisoner fall in love while engaged in the maddening punishment of transporting rocks from one pile to another, is enacted in a surreally austere space, with the audience viewing the action through a supposedly electrified wire fence.

Director Brad Mooy and designer Joey Wade's staging sometimes undercuts rather than enhances the play's potential to move and instruct. Having actors dressed as Nazi guards roust viewers out of the theater during intermission cuts short the power of the first-act climax, turning our experience of the play into a game of make-believe that trivializes Sherman's eye-opening history lesson. And while the actors work up plenty of visceral emotion, their rushed, sometimes bellowed line readings obscure the script, a lean piece of writing in which every word counts. Though this landmark play survives on the strength of its grim honesty, Gilead's production is longer on creativity and commitment than craft.

--Albert Williams

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