“Bent” is just one show within The Justice Theater Project’s 2017-18 season. Its themes running through all of this season’s performances are race, equity and identity.
As a nonprofit social justice theater, The Justice Theater Project aims to surround each of its performances with educational and outreach opportunities.
For this play, the 1997 film “Bent” was shown at the Cary Theater with a post-show discussion and Richard Plant’s "The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals" was discussed at Quail Ridge Books.
Additionally, the Justice Theater Project compiled a list of events to attend outside of the performance, some of which include participating in the State of North Carolina Holocaust Commemoration on April 8 and attending a concert for the Triangle Gay Men’s Chorus.
Melissa Zeph, executive producer of The Justice Theater Project, explained that a holistic educational experience is important for theatergoers to grasp the live performance. Topics concerning social justice like equity and identity are important to discuss at length, and she said that The Justice Theater Project aims to teach through theater.
“Our particular patrons are attracted to well-done theater, of course, that opens dialogue, but also oftentimes teaches something,” Zeph said. “Live theater is the perfect conduit for bringing history to life, and this show absolutely fills that.”
Joel Rainey, director of “Bent,” said that inclusion and rights for all are prevalent themes that run throughout the show. He said that love is truly at the heart of the story, and he is glad that “Bent” will better inform audiences about the events of the Holocaust.
“Hopefully our audience will become aware of the atrocities that were heaped onto the homosexuals during this period,” Rainey said.
Justin Brent Johnson, who plays Horst, added to the idea that audiences will become more informed about the Holocaust thanks to the show, and he gave some advice to theatergoers about how to approach the show.
“Audiences should come with an open mind and open heart,” Johnson said. “This play is very powerful, but it also has moments of lightness. People shouldn’t assume that just because it is a show that takes place during the Holocaust that it is two hours of depression. Part of what makes this show unique is the love and light that comes through the darkness.”
For Johnson, the show comes at a timely moment in history and is a powerful message of love, pride and truth.
“The heart of the show for me comes from one of my lines,” Johnson said. “We are all 'just people' — human beings. It shouldn’t matter who we love or how we love. I think it’s important that the Justice Theater Project chose to produce this play because the LGBTQ community still faces persecution today. We still have lawmakers and people in power who oppress whole groups of people.”
The show will run through Feb. 18 at the Umstead Park United Church of Christ in Raleigh. For more information about show times and ticket prices, visit The Justice Theater Project’s website.