CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Barbed wire, Nazi stormtroopers, concentration camps, mind-numbingly monotonous work, starvation and death. That’s what Jewish, gay and other victims of the Holocaust experienced and Queen City Theatre Company’s local production of the acclaimed 1979 play, “Bent,” takes viewers on an emotional journey into history and a time when gay love might have meant certain death.
Queen City Theatre managing director Kristian Wedolowski plays the production’s main character, Max. He’s a complex figure — loving but distant, caring but selfish, honest but sly. Max’s longtime boyfriend, Rudy, played by James Glinski, is an innocent soul — an optimistic dreamer caught up in the turmoil of history.
If you go
“Bent” opened at Duke Energy Theatre at Spirit Square on Nov. 1. It continues to run through Nov. 17. Learn more and purchase tickets online at queencitytheatre.org.
The show opens with an eery recording of North Carolina pastor Charles Worley, who stoked fires of controversy when he said gays should be locked up behind electrified fences. The pastor’s recorded words transition into a Nazi speech and period music, setting the stage for the rest of the production. It’s long. It’s emotional. It’s hard to watch. All that, intentionally so.
From the beginning, Wedolowski is full of passion. He plays his character well. That zeal runs through the entire show, even as Max is taken to Dachau concentration camp. The laborious second act, as Max and his fellow prisoner Horst (Scott Miller) do nothing but move rocks, is a sorrowful ode to pain, forcing viewers to meet head-on the melancholy and despair of Holocaust-era camps.
Wedolowski and director Glenn T. Griffin say they hope their Charlotte production of the play leaves a mark. Many aren’t even aware of the history. Everyone knows about the Nazi’s Jewish victims, but too many are ignorant of the crimes committed against gay victims as well.
“We cannot forget what happened here and we can’t recreate history because the horrors were so bad,” Wedolowski says.
The memory of that horrible past has had an impact on Griffin and his actors.
“It’s a really exhausting and hard show to work on because a lot of it hits so close to home for a lot of the actors, whether they are straight actors or gay,” Griffin says. “It’s a difficult subject and we’ve had so many long and difficult discussions about what is going on. It was a brutal and sick world where people were using barbaric means to get rid of a population.”
Griffin hopes the play, which continues to run through Nov. 17, will helps to educate and reminds both gay and straight audiences why standing up against hate is so important.
“I was talking to a friend of mine, who never knew this had happend,” Griffin says. “I told him, ‘You’re gay and you don’t know this story. It is a part of our history.’ Sometimes we don’t know or embrace our history enough. At the same time for a straight audience, they need to know why we must fight for our rights. There are still these crazy hate groups with people talking about putting gay people behind electric fences. If that didn’t exist, maybe this play wouldn’t be so important but they do.”
“Bent” isn’t for the faint. It won’t make for a rousing night of entertainment and laughter. But the production is meaningful, the actors intentional, the message and history important and symbolic.
info: Learn more about the play and purchase tickets at queencitytheatre.org.