UWEC presents play about Holocaust, sexuality
Some important historical stories are still widely unknown, because the subjects of the stories remain taboo even in a society as open as ours seems to be. The UW-Eau Claire theater department is bringing a widely unknown layer of the Holocaust tragedy to light in their fall production of Bent by Martin Sherman. First performed in 1979 in London, this play tells the story of Max, a gay man in 1930s Berlin, and the experiences he and other homosexuals endured in Nazi Germany, where homosexuality was a criminal offense. A lesser-known brutalized population during the Nazi regime, homosexuals were put in concentration camps and endured similar torture, hard labor and medical experimentations as other victims, such as Jews, racial minorities, and those with disabilities.
Ryan McDaniel, a senior comprehensive theatre major, plays Max, who is captured and sent to a concentration camp for the crime of being gay. There he befriends a fellow gay prisoner named Horst, played by Chris Goltz, a senior music major with a theatre minor. Both actors auditioned because this play tells an important story about the atrocities people are capable of, but also about the temerity of the soul. Goltz says the play “shows that humans have the capability of finding love in the most inhumane of situations.”
Bent does seem to be, at heart, about love. “In many ways this is a simple love story,” says Richard Nimke, assistant professor of theatre and the director of the play. “The character of Max learns to love himself through the love of another prisoner.” However, despite the element of the “simple love story” running through the show, there are some intense challenges in producing this type of graphic and moving material. “Every night we run the show,” says McDaniel, “I’m left a little bit shaken.”
Gotlz has also felt the emotional toll, pointing out that the cast and crew has been charged with the monumental task of “being able to create the world of the Holocaust.” But they’ve been handling it admirably, as Nimke praises the students’ ability in dealing with some of the rougher scenes: “Everyone is sensitive to the difficulty of the material and is committed to honoring the memory of the men who suffered these indignities.”
When choosing plays to produce at UWEC, the theatre faculty look for plays that will provide such a challenge for the students, as well as to provide interest in the community. Nimke also had requests to include Bent in this fall’s season from students who read the script for a theatre of the Holocaust class he teaches. He hopes that the play will open up community discussions on diversity and inform audiences of the atrocities homosexuals endured during the Nazi regime. With all the thoughtfulness and hard work put into the production, it will be, as McDaniel puts it, “a fantastic show that is thrilling, compelling, and as hopeful as it is heartbreaking.”
UWEC Theatre: Bent. Oct. 9-11 and 15-18 at 7:30pm and Oct. 12 at 1:30pm. Adults $10, seniors and faculty/staff $8, youth $6, students $5. 836-3727. For mature audiences only.