The independent Cuban theater company La Peña Meisner de la Habana hopes to stage the internationally acclaimed play Bent in front of Cuban audiences in Havana in 2014. The 1979 stage play, named after the slang term used by Europeans to describe homosexuality, portrays the mistreatment and imprisonment of homosexuals in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, and explores themes of homosexual persecution, prejudice and social acceptance. The director, Stephen Bayley, believes the LGBT themed play will have a significant impact on public opinion regarding homosexuality in Cuba. The theater company is raising money on the indie crowd-funding website indiegogo.
In the last decades, Cuba has seen a liberalization of public health policy toward gays and transgenders as well as a wider acceptance overall of homosexuality, including of transformismo, drag performances. Many Cuban LGBT activists point to the work of Mariela Castro, daughter of president Raúl Castro, whose government sponsored group, Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual (CENESEX), has been instrumental both in tackling LGBT health issues and in increasing public awareness of homosexual prejudice in Cuba’s machismo society. Cuba is experiencing an awakened interest in LGBT themed television productions, festivals, and events. The theater company, La Peña, believes the time is right to present Bent for the first time to Cuban audiences.
La Peña’s choice of Bent is both politically daring and worthy of applause. Written by Martin Sherman, Bent is a dark and powerful play that portrays the inhumanity of government persecution against homosexuals and the indignity and destruction to mind and body that internment causes. La Peña’s production of Bent in Havana will doubtless recall to Cuban audiences their own country’s tortuous history regarding homosexuals.
After the Cuban revolution in the 1960s, homosexuals were targeted by the Castro regime for internment in forced labor camps, called Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción (UMAP), along with other “enemies of the state,” some 25,000 persons in total. Cuba’s persecution of homosexuals was documented in an award-winning film in 1984, Conducta Impropria, directed by Néstor Almendros and Orlando Jiménez Leal, which interviewed gay inmates of Cuba’s notorious UMAP camps. The camps were shut down in 1968 but the wounds have still not healed in Cuba’s LGBT community. An unofficial apology for Cuba’s persecution of homosexuals in the 1960s came from Fidel Castro in an interview with the Mexican newspaper Jornada in 2010. In the hopes of mounting an exhibit regarding the UMAP camps in 2012, the Cuban LGBT activist Imbert Acosta asked Mariela Castro and CENESEX for help with information on them, but was rebuffed. La Peña’s production of Bent in Havana will doubtless bring this history back into the conversation of LGBT prejudice in Cuba.
La Peña’s Bent follows on the heels of their award-winning production of Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange in June of 2013 at the Bertholt Brecht Theater in Havana. The theater company is known for its realistic acting technique based on the teachings of the late American actor Sanford Meisner. In the Meisner technique, actors endeavor to react to the action on stage, to live in the imaginary circumstances of the play, rather than simply enact emotions through impersonation. The result of the Meisner technique is a more visceral performance which lends greater visibility and range to the emotions on stage. The Meisner acting technique is bound to make La Peña’s LGBT themed production of homosexual persecution and dignity in Bent an unforgettable performance in Cuba.
By Steve Killings