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Sherman, Martin (b. 1938)  
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Like Bent, Sherman's plays often focus on characters who feel they can ignore the world around them, only later to be brought up short by the consequences of their ignorance. The playwright explores the cost of willful blindness in such works as Messiah (1982), which is set in 1665 Poland when one-third of the Jewish population was slaughtered by Cossacks; Rose (1999), a one-woman play in which an 80-year-old Jewish widow recounts a life that includes surviving the Warsaw ghetto; When She Danced (1985), a comedy about Isadora Duncan in Paris; A Madhouse in Goa (1989), an apocalyptic satire set on Corfu and Santorini; and Some Sunny Day (1996), a surrealistic story set in Cairo during World War II.

Sherman has also adapted for the stage E. M. Foster's novel A Passage to India (2002), as well as updated versions of Pirandello's Così è, si vi pare (as Absolutely! [Perhaps], 2003) and Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard (2007).

Among Sherman's screenwriting credits are Waris Hussein's movie made for British television Clothes in the Wardrobe (also known as The Summer House, 1992), Franco Zeffirelli's Callas Forever (2002), Robert Allan Ackerman's American television version of Tennessee Williams's The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (2003), and Stephen Frears' Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005).

Although his screenplays for these projects all have gay elements and appeal, Sherman's most explicitly gay-themed screenplay (other than for Bent) is the one he wrote for Nancy Meckler's Indian Summer (also known as Alive and Kicking, 1996), which explores the growing relationship between an HIV-positive dancer (Jason Flemyng) and an older AIDS counselor (Anthony Sher).

Sherman has a long-standing interest in popular music--among his earliest major assignments was writing the script for a television special featuring Cass Elliot, "Don't Call Me Mama Anymore," in 1973. However, it was thirty years later before Sherman ventured into musical theater.

In 2003, he was commissioned to write a new book for the American premiere of The Boy from Oz, based on the original Australian libretto by Nick Enright. The musical, starring the charismatic Hugh Jackman, set for itself the rather daunting task of telling the life story of Peter Allen (using his music and lyrics) from cradle to grave. Sherman unflinchingly tackled Allen's complicated bisexuality. His work on The Boy from Oz earned Sherman a Tony nomination for best book of a musical.

Like many writers, Sherman sees an aesthetic strength in being an outsider, not only as a gay Jewish man, but also as an American who has lived in London since 1980. "I have been able to flourish there in a way that I don't think I could have done here [in America]," he told reporters. He added that he did not move to London to "leave" the United States because he was "disgusted" with his home country; rather "I fell in love with England."

As a self-described outsider, Sherman has remained very discreet about his personal life. Actor and friend Rupert Graves has remarked that Sherman is "kind of elusive, very hard to pin down," a judgment with which Ian McKellen concurs: "There's a lot about Martin that's very private."

In 1991, Sherman joined other openly gay British artists in an open letter to the Guardian to distance themselves from Derek Jarman's public criticism of Ian McKellen's acceptance of a knighthood from the anti-gay Conservative Government. "Never again will public figures be able to claim that they have to keep secret their homosexuality in fear of it damaging their careers. Ian McKellen provides an inspiration to us all, not only as an artist of extraordinary gifts, but as a public figure of remarkable honesty and dignity."

Critical reaction to Sherman's work for stage and screen is often mixed, but audiences regularly respond favorably to his multifaceted characters caught up in tumultuous historical situations.

As the author of one of the seminal gay dramas of the twentieth century, Sherman has no regrets about being a pioneer, but he does not want to be limited as to his subject matter. As he told The Advocate in 2000, "At the time I wrote Bent it was important to declare yourself as a gay writer. It seems to me that we have now reached this point, which I think is extremely healthy, where I can write about anything."

Bud Coleman

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literature >> Overview:  Contemporary Drama

Since Stonewall, gay and lesbian drama has flourished, especially in the United States.

arts >> Overview:  Film

Since cinema began, Hollywood has been fascinated with finding ways of representing homosexuality.

literature >> Overview:  Jewish-American Literature

Jewish-American gay and lesbian literature is marked by its rich heritage, diverse subject matter, and thriving vitality.

arts >> Overview:  Musical Theater and Film

The musical has been a significant aspect of American gay male culture, manifesting itself both in diva worship and, more recently, in the presentation of openly gay characters and shows written by gay writers primarily for gay audiences.

literature >> Overview:  Musical Theater

There has always been homosexual involvement in American musical theatre and a homosexual sensibility even in straight musicals, and recently the Broadway musical has welcomed openly homosexual themes and situations.

social sciences >> Overview:  Nazism and the Holocaust

As part of its agenda to preserve an "Aryan master race," Nazism persecuted homosexuals as "asocial parasites"; more than 100,000 men were arrested on homosexual charges during the Nazi years, with 5,000-15,000 gay men incarcerated in concentration camps.

arts >> Overview:  Screenwriters

Although film may be a director's rather than a writer's medium, gay and lesbian screenwriters have made significant contributions to both mainstream and independent film.

literature >> Overview:  War Literature

From ancient times, homoerotic writing has been a notable part of the literature of war.

arts >> Allen, Peter

Although not publicly out as a gay man, Australian singer and songwriter Peter Allen signaled his homosexuality through his flamboyant persona and the subtexts of many of his songs.

arts >> Callow, Simon

Versatile British actor Simon Callow has played a wide variety of roles on the stage, in films, and on television, but has remarked on his special affinity for gay roles.

literature >> Forster, E. M.

One of the finest English novelists of the twentieth century and a tireless defender of humane values, Forster deserves a special place in the gay and lesbian literary heritage.

literature >> Kramer, Larry

Controversial playwright, novelist, and essayist Larry Kramer has been a pioneer in the gay political response to AIDS in America.

arts >> McKellen, Sir Ian

Arguably the finest Shakespearean actor of his generation, Ian McKellen was the first British subject to be knighted after publicly revealing his homosexuality, an event that proved more controversial within the gay community than in the mainstream.

social sciences >> Pink Triangle

Originally a mark of criminalization and persecution under the Nazis, the pink triangle was later reclaimed by gays both as a memorial and as a celebration of sexual identity.

social sciences >> Stonewall Riots

The confrontations between police and demonstrators at the Stonewall Inn in New York City the weekend of June 27-29, 1969 mark the beginning of the modern glbtq movement for equal rights.

literature >> Williams, Tennessee

Conflicted over his own sexuality, Tennessee Williams wrote directly about homosexuality only in his short stories, his poetry, and his late plays.


de Jongh, Nicholas. Not in Front of the Audience: Homosexuality on Stage. London: Routledge, 1992.

Judell, Brandon. "A Conversation with Sean Mathias and Martin Sherman of Bent." indiewire (2007):

Raymond, Gerard. "Sherman's Rose Blooms." The Advocate (May 23, 2000).

Ridinger, Robert B. Marks. "Sherman, Martin." Gay and Lesbian Literature. Sharon Malinowski, ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. 346-47.

Shewey, Don. "Dramatizing a Century of Jewish Memories." The New York Times (April 9, 2000): 2:7, 22.

Wolf, Matt. "Martin Sherman." New York (November 17, 1997): 61.


    Citation Information
    Author: Coleman, Bud  
    Entry Title: Sherman, Martin  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2007  
    Date Last Updated August 2, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2007 glbtq, Inc.  


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