Thursday, June 5, 2014

BENT in Bangkok

BENT, the Martin Sherman play, had its first showing in Bangkok last weekend. This award winning play originally opened on the West End Stage back in 1979 and made it to Broadway in 1980 with Richard Gere taking the lead role. 1997 saw the feature film version pick up an award at the Cannes Film festival with performances by none other than Jude Law and Mick Jagger. 

In 2014, in Bangkok, a city fittingly it might seem, under military rule, this meditation of The Night of the Long Knives took place on the stage. Peel The Limelight and the Petralai Management Theatre of Chualalongkorn a new dynamic production outfit working out of the Chula business university campus and serving, wait for it, lime juice during the interval, had a lot to contend with. Cancelations of the earlier shows due to the military curfew, disruptions with public transport systems, a new curfew, mobs demonstrating, photographers and bloggers capturing or hoping to capture a slice of the action. Who had time for a play about the military take-over of a country when it was happening on the streets for real? 

I had trouble finding the venue (Shiraz, Guinness)before being shown to a high floor in the business faculty by a kindly lecturer. The show was about to start. No time for lime juice, straight into the action. The audience were both Thai and international and I gathered mostly students or somehow attached to the university.       

Prior knowledge of the persecution of one hundred thousand homosexuals during the Nazi Germany ethnic cleansing campaign was not required for a full understanding of the play, nor is appreciation of the artistic movement between the wars and the decadence that flourished in the city of Berlin. Flourished that is before the Nazis moved in. But a brief background certainly would not hurt to understand the atmosphere and conditions under which this story is framed.

Max, played by British born actor Chris Wegoda is having trouble with his wealthy family due to his involvement with boyfriend Rudy, played by I-Nam Jiemvitayanukoon. A realtionship discovered by the Nazis as Max engages in an affair with Wolfgang Granz, played by James Laver, who is a man wanted by Hitlar's Gestapo.  The pair flee the city with the help from uncle Freddy performed by musician and thespian Kevin Wood. However, Max and Rudy are caught and arrested by the Gestapo and bound on a train heading to the Dachau concentration camp. 

The action intensifies as Rudy is beaten to death on the train and, Max, rather than suffer the same treatment tells the Gestapo that he is a Jew thus not being made to wear the pink triangle that brands the gay prisoners. In one of Wegoda’s / Max’s most powerful scenes he confesses to intercourse with a deceased teenage girl, under the watchful eyes of the Gestapo to prove that he is not a homosexual. This is a poweful moment in the play.

On the train the lone survivor meets Horst played by Jaime Zuniga who quickly becomes Max’s friend and later, while assigned to work together in the concentration camp, his lover.

The play ends tragically after Horst is shot and Max ends his life by jumping into the electrical fence that stands between them and their freedom to not only live, but live a lifestyle that was once tolerated if not encouraged by the status quo of that decadent age.                

Peel the Limelight is a tidy venue, well designed and set-up with fantastic use of lighting and a professional prop rotation team who enhanced this edgy, somewhat disturbing show. 

Chris Wegoda bravely took the main role and was struck by flashes of brilliance. Wegoda has impressed the Bangkok stage thus far with a fine performance in The Rocky Horror Picture and the Moulin Rouge at the Checkinn99. He continues to improve his craft. Jaime Zuniga, who has put on productions in Vietnam also carried his difficult role very well. My only criticism would be the repetitive nature of the carrying of rocks from one side of the stage to the other. Yet under the conditions of a concentration camp one can only imagine the drudgery of day to day life. The real chemistry sparked as the two actors put down the rocks and faced the audience addressing each other and their growing emotions towards each other without even a glance at one another for fear of the watchful eye of the Gestapo. 

I-Nam played his role well and shows great promise as a performer. Duncan foster’s Greta, a relic of the Berlin decadent scene was expertly portrayed and Kevin Wood’s role as Uncle Freddy was simply sublime. SS Captain Robert Badoux wore the uniform well. The sound was sinister and decadent and enhanced the production.  

But hats off, or Nazi caps off to director Peter O’Neil for making it all happen on a night where art on the stage was as surreal as the events outside on the streets. 


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pity I missed that, guess I have to move back to Thailand.