Attention all dreamers, outcasts, idealists, and rebels! Make your way to The Public Theater immediately and see, The Total Bent! If you are looking for a piece of theatre to question all your beliefs look no further! The Total Bent will take you on a ride that will make you rethink who you truly are as a person.
We are set into what looks like an old recording studio and all we see is a microphone with a single light. All of a sudden are ears are filled with the soothing voice of Joe Roy (Vondie Curtis Hall). The creators set you up to feel relaxed and then BAM! The band kicks in and a gospel rock fills the theater and he belts “That’s why he’s Jesus, and you’re not, whitey”. We find out that Joe is a popular preacher in Alabama and his son; Marty (Ato Blakson Wood) is quite the opposite. The time is 1960 in the heat of the civil rights movement and Marty wants his father to make an album about protest. Throughout the show we see their struggle grow and intensify. Luckily with the brilliant music by, Stew and Heidi Rodewald they manage to give the show a satire feel with dark comedy undertones.
Ato Blankson-Wood (Marty) gives an outstanding performance. He gives off a magnetic energy that makes you root for him the entire show. We follow his journey from a teen that doesn’t like his father but too shy to truly stand up for himself, to a full on rebel (or in this case, sinner. Marty has the sex appeal to make every woman and man desire him, a true rock n roll STAR! In seeking revenge on his father, enter a sleazy music producer Byron Blackwell (David Cale) who manages to take everyone’s beliefs and throws it out the door. He loves black gospel rock and yet he asks why out of all the people in the world “why do black people still believe in god?” This causes the final break and Marty and Joe go to war. Vondie Curtis Hall (Joe Roy) gives you almost a cheesy car salesman vibe but he’s selling Jesus. “I’m a hoe and God is my pimp.” Despite his shallowness about making money and self-absorption, you still don’t hate him. Mr. Curtis Hall delivers a monologue towards the end about shooting the television (he’s a TV preacher) because everything is a lie, essentially bringing us back to the beginning of who are we, what is our identity.
I know this seems like a lot of drama! But Thank goodness for the friends turned back up singers/dancers Andrew (Jahi Kearse) and Abee (Curtis Wiley). They bring us comedic relief whether it is a funny one liner or complete fear of papa Joe. The band also interjects with the plot and with the audience, giving us the feeling of history with the character and its not just background music.
The Total Bent will change your life, mind and question everything you ever thought. It re- educated me and I didn’t even realize I needed the lesson. Which is a sad truth about most people today. Make your way to the Public Theater to see this important piece of theatre!
Review By: Briana Burnside
Photos By: Joan Marcus