Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rising Action Theatre: Bent (4 reviews)

Rising Action Theatre opened BENT on June 5, 2009.
In 1934 Berlin on the eve of the Nazi incursion, Max, and his lover Rudy are recovering from a night of debauchery with a SA trooper. Two soldiers burst into the apartment and slit their guest's throat, beginning a nightmare odyssey through Nazi Germany.
Larry Buzzeo directed a cast that included himself, Richard Weinstock, Larry Brooks, Ted Dvoracek, John McGlothlin, Michael Perry, Jerry Jensen, Terry Cozzorth and Jason Rempalo.

Brandon K. Thorp reviewed for the Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
Good theater is where you find it, and through July 19 at Rising Action Theatre, you'll find it in actor John McGlothlin's stubbly, twitching face, which spends the heartbreaking second act of Bent staring at the ground.
In the three years that Rising Action has operated in South Florida, few performances like McGlothlin's have graced its stage. And though it will take another season to say for sure, McGlothlin's appearance — surrounded as it is by a solid show with only a handful of minor flaws — could be a sign that this small, struggling company has found its footing.
Perry's fussy interpretation of Rudy lacks both gravitas and believability in the first scene, but he improves steadily as he and Max flail around Germany, seeking safe passage to Holland. Greta (Larry Brooks), the drag-queen owner of the club where Rudy works, will be no help. (Though she is of help to us: Brooks imbues the part with a savage, decadent seediness that grounds us in the sin-choked old Berlin that Hitler meant to purify.)
They are arrested, and we then confront the first of the play's two famous scenes. On the train to Dachau, Rudy is forced to step on his own eyeglasses. Then he is beaten. Just to prove he's not gay, Max is forced to beat him as well, and Rudy dies. Buzzeo is admirably understated here — almost miraculously so, given that Buzzeo is serving double duty as the play's director — and though I wish he'd give Rudy a harder whack with the truncheon, he bears the scene's staggering emotional load extremely well. I have never seen a man forced by Nazis to murder the love of his life, but I imagine he'd look something like Buzzeo in these moments.
It doesn't even matter that Rising Action Theatre's production was produced on the cheap or that some of its performances bear the mark of its lowly, community-theater origins. Thanks to Martin Sherman's words, Buzzeo's restraint, and McGlothlin's remarkable face, Rising Action has finally produced a play you can't afford not to see.
Mary Damiano reviewed for Miami Artzine:
When John McGlothlin first appears in Bent as Horst, it’s close to the end of the first act. As a gay concentration camp prisoner who’s being shipped back to Dachau after being used in a propaganda film, he conveys quiet dignity from the first moment. Sure, it helps that the scene is steeped in power and emotion, but practically everything paraded across the stage until McGlothlin’s appearance is dreck. And everything after that is moving, poignant, powerful. Coincidence? I think not.
The scenic design by Leah Brown, featuring fabric panels printed with photos of people who perished in the camps, is compelling and haunting, but it would have been more effective—and made more sense—had it been left for the second act in Dachau rather than the first act in Max and Rudy’s apartment and other locales.
In addition to playing Max, Buzzeo also directs the production. Perhaps his performance would have fared better had his attention not been divided. Larry Brooks makes a great drag queen as Greta, owner of the club Max frequents in Berlin. The less said about the other actors the better.
Christine Dolen reviewed for the Miami Herald:
The quality of the work at Fort Lauderdale's Rising Action Theatre has been a sometime thing -- sometimes good and engaging, sometimes woefully inadequate -- so hearing that the company would be staging Martin Sherman's challenging Bent is bound to stir a mixture of hope and fear.

The largely encouraging news is that the power of Sherman's play about Nazi persecution and extermination of homosexuals shines through in this uneven but ultimately moving production. Director and star Larry Buzzeo is working with a cast of mixed abilities (something that too often happens at Rising Action), and that does diminish what he's able to accomplish.

But when the blissful decadence of 1934 Berlin gives way to the peril of being on the run and the horror of incarceration at Dachau, Bent quickly becomes riveting.
... the actors navigate their way through Sherman's devastating story. Some, notably Perry (who neither looks nor moves like a dancer) and Dvoracek, deliver performances you might find at a not-so-hot community theater. Buzzeo and Brooks are better, though nuance isn't their thing and Buzzeo doesn't seem to change much over months in a concentration camp. McGlothlin, however, is heartbreakingly believable as a man whose courage and humanity are transcendent.
The Sun-Sentinel sent out Rod Stafford Hagwood, instead of a theatre critic:
Bent starts like many productions at Rising Action Theatre: endearingly awkward and thriftily staged.

But soon, it becomes something else altogether: gripping, powerful and haunting.
Martin Sherman's 30-year-old play about the Third Reich's sadistic persecution of homosexuals loses none of its gut-punching impact under Larry Buzzeo's direction.

Buzzeo also plays lead character Max, with just enough clumsy charisma to make his wheeler-dealer opportunist work. As director, he is savvy enough to keep it simple; Nazis don't need a lot of help creating dramatic conflict.
John McGlothlin as Horst is a poignant wonder to watch, a revelation of nuance. His defeated slopped shoulders and slow cautious shuffle-of-a-walk are camouflage for those darting eyes, which seem in a constant state of pre-wince.
The second act, set entirely in Dachau, is where Bent slows down and focuses on the relationship -- albeit an entirely verbal one -- between Max and Horst. And although at times the scenes ring just slightly "acterly" (they never seem truly exhausted from hauling rocks from one pile to the other; the love scene almost deters into a poetry reading) McGlothlin and Buzzeo effortlessly hold the stage.
Bent plays at Rising Action Theatre through July 19, 2009.

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