It sounds like a cruel joke to imagine a status lower than a Jew in a concentration camp. Yet that was the fate of homosexuals during Nazi Germany's purging of "enemies" of the state. Branded with pink triangles, they were shipped to camps, separated and given horrendously menial tasks meant to drive them literally to madness.
In an effort to tell the story of the half-million homosexuals killed during the Holocaust, playwright Martin Sherman penned Bent, which debuted on Broadway in 1979 and starred Richard Gere. A film adaptation featuring Mick Jagger in drag followed 18 years later. Locally when the Holocaust Museum Houston announced its latest exhibition, "Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945," Joe Watts of Theatre New West saw an opportunity to update the tale. "A huge light bulb went off in my head," he says. "It was just a match made in hell."
Bent is the story of Max, a gay, decadent drug dealer who narrowly escapes "The Night of the Long Knives," the Gestapo raid in 1934 which purged homosexuals from the Nazi party. Max and his lover Rudy eventually are accosted and sent to a concentration camp. Bent on survival, Max sacrifices all -- his identity as a gay man and even Rudy -- and undergoes a grotesque test in order to trade his pink triangle for the yellow star marking him simply as a Jew. His redemption eventually comes in the form of Horst, a gay prisoner who proudly wears the pink triangle. Their relationship blooms in the midst of shovels and rock piles, and in a humorous, poignant moment, their passion is consummated in what could be best summed up as the predecessor to phone sex.
Watts admits that Bent's subject matter is heavy, but he has vowed not to sugarcoat the material. To do so, he says, is a disservice to the gays and lesbians lost in the Holocaust.
"These were the original gay soldiers," he says. "They weren't sissies. They were brave enough to stand up for what they were. And they died so that we could live."