By Martin Sherman. Directed by Amanda Lockitch. A Meta.for Theatre Company production. At Performance Works on Friday, November 2. Continues until November 17

Bent is a love story set in an environment where love is impossible. This production deftly captures both the play's brutality and its message of human transcendence.

Martin Sherman's 1979 script begins in Berlin in the early years of the Third Reich. We meet Max, his lover Rudy, and Wolf, the young stud that Max can't even remember bringing home from the bar the previous night. Then Nazi soldiers burst into the apartment and slit Wolf's throat. Hitler's crackdown on queers has begun, and Max and Rudy are forced to flee. The first act follows their exile, eventual capture, and transport to Dachau. Only Max survives the trip, passing himself off as a Jew rather than a gay man. His survival is largely due to Horst, a fellow passenger who wears the pink triangle that marks him as a homosexual.

In the second act, Max and Horst become workmates, performing the pointless task of moving a pile of rocks back and forth across a yard. But although they aren't allowed to stop moving, the men are able to talk without being heard, and over time, they fall in love. In a scene of breathtaking intensity, they even find a way to have sex without touching or looking at each other.

Under Amanda Lockitch's direction, the performances and pacing are uneven. Sean Cummings subtly traces Max's journey from spoiled, apathetic cad to passionate survivor, but his character remains an enigma. Thrasso Petras is an assured Horst, who nimbly mines the script's black humour: when Max mentions that they'll miss the Berlin Olympics, Horst deadpans, "I knew there was a reason I didn't want to be here." Petras also turns in strong work as Greta, a world-weary and treacherous drag queen. Sean Allan brings a winning mix of prudishness and prurience to the part of Max's Uncle Freddie, an older closet case. But Lockitch needs to rein in Joshua Lewis: as Rudy, he's overly fidgety and constantly coming in one beat too late with his lines. The whole first act demands a crisper pace than we get here; moments of comic relief evaporate in its inexplicable pauses. Fortunately, most of the first act's problems are remedied in the second.

Niki Boyd's set moves from Weimar decadence to concentration-camp horror with economy and style, and Melissa C. Powell's lighting is suitably expressive.

When it opened nearly 30 years ago, Bent shocked audiences who'd been largely unaware of Hitler's persecution of homosexuals. We may now be more familiar with the history, but the play's power is undiminished.

Link: Bent official site