The title of the play refers to the slang word "bent" used in some European countries to refer to homosexuals. When the play was first performed, there was only a small trickle of historical research or even awareness about the Nazi persecution of homosexuals. In some regards, the play helped increase that trickle in historical research and education in the 1980s and 1990s.
The play starred Ian McKellen in its original 1979 West-End production, and Richard Gere in its original Broadway production. In 1989, Sean Mathias directed a revival of the play, performed as a one-night benefit for Stonewall, featuring Ian McKellen, Richard E Grant, Ian Charleson, and Ralph Fiennes. After receiving critical acclaim, Mathias directed a full run in 1990, with Ian McKellen, Paul Rhys, and Christopher Eccleston, which won the City Limits Award for Revival of the Year.
In 1997, Martin Sherman adapted Bent into a film of the same name, which was directed by Sean Mathias.
Max, a promiscuous gay man in 1930s Berlin, is at odds with his wealthy family because of his homosexuality. One evening, much to the resentment of his boyfriend Rudy, he brings home a handsome Sturmabteilung man. Unfortunately, Hitler has just decided to get rid of the Sturmabteilung corps, which was infamous for same-sex inclinations among its ranks. The Sturmabteilung man is discovered and killed by SS men in Max and Rudy's apartment, and the two have to flee Berlin.
Max's uncle Freddie, who is also gay, but lives a more discreet life with rent boys to satisfy his desires, has organized new papers for Max, but Max refuses to leave his naïve boyfriend behind. As a result, Max and Rudy are found and arrested by the Gestapo and put on a train headed for Dachau concentration camp.
On the train, Rudy calls out to Max as he is taken away to be beaten, so Rudy is brought back and beaten to death by Max who denies he knows him, then Max has intercourse with the body of a dead pre-teen girl to "prove" he is not homosexual. Max has lied to the guards, telling them that he is a Jew rather than a homosexual, because he believes his chances for survival in the camp will be better if he is not assigned the pink triangle.
In the camp, Max makes friends with Horst, who shows him the dignity that lies in acknowledging what one is. They fall in love and become lovers through their imagination and through their words. After Horst is shot by camp guards, Max puts on Horst's jacket with the pink triangle and commits suicide by grabbing an electric fence.
San Diego, California — Diversionary Theatre in collaboration with ion theatre company will produce Bent in November 2009.
Altera Vitae Productions of Canada presented the Montreal premier in November 2009 at L'Espace 4001. Directed by Carolyn Fe, the cast includes: Christopher Moore (Max), Adam Leblanc (Rudy), Vance de Waele (Horst), Serge Turcotte (Greta), Mark Waters (Uncle Freddie), Yves Jacquier (Captain).
Pandora Productions of Louisville presented the play in May 2009.
Bent made its Cincinnati debut at New Stage Collective in March 2009. In May 2009, Bent was presented at Stanford University by STAMP, the Stanford Theatre Activist Mobilization Project, co-sponsored by the Emma Goldman Society for Queer Liberation.
The most recent New York production of Bent took place at the 13th Street Repertory Company. Directed by Joshua Chase Gold, and starring Ryan Nicholoff as Max and Jim Halloran as Horst, the production was received to strong reviews and sold out audiences.
From June 25 to June 30 2009, Bent was presented by Theatre Engine at the Abrams Studio Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and received rave reviews.
In 2009, Hubris Productions presented a revival of Bent with original music by John Kamys aka Jinx Titanic at the Greenhouse Theatre in Chicago, Illinois from July 9 to August 15, 2009. This production was sanctioned by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and a portion of the proceeds from this show benefitted the museum.
In November 2009, Fullerton College's theatre arts department will present a revival of the show.
In September 2009, The Rhodes Drama Department in South Africa presented a revival of the show as a Masters Coursework examination. This production commemorated the play's 30th anniversary.
In February/March 2010, Focus Theatre presented a revival of Bent at the Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney as part of the Mardi Gras festival.
In March 2010, Oxford University students will present an amateur production of the show in the Keble O'Reilly Theatre.
On the 7th and 8th of May 2010, an amateur production of Bent will be presented at the Questors Theatre in Ealing, London.
At the Lowry Theatre in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Bent will be produced by the Actor's Theatre of Minnesota during it's 2010 season on May 6th through the 16th.