Review: Paula Vogel's INDECENT, an Uplifting Drama of The Power of Theatre

By: May. 19, 2016
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With the very clever and unexpected bit of stagecraft that opens Paula Vogel's warm and uplifting tribute to the power of theatre, Indecent (co-created by director Rebecca Taichman), a troupe of actors and musicians appear to literally emerge from the ashes to tell the story of playwright Sholem Asch's Yiddish drama GOD OF VENGENCE, which caused such tsuris when it opened in New York in 1922.

The Company
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)

After the charismatic stage manager (Richard Topol) introduces the audience to his colleagues, they joyfully dance to klezmer rhythms as the dust of time pours off of them. The players then get down to the business of dramatizing how, in 1906, the young Polish playwright's tale of the daughter of a Jewish brothel owner who finds love in the embraces of prostitute during a romantic downpour is met with shocked outrage when the male members of a Warsaw literary salon first read it.

They want Asch to burn it. Asch, instead, takes it to Berlin. GOD OF VENGENCE is a success throughout Europe in the early years of the 20th Century, but when a New York production moved from Macdougal Street's Provincetown Playhouse to 42nd Street's Apollo Theatre - even with revisions to appease any potential controversy - the play was raided and the producers and cast, which included Morris Carnovsky and Sam Jaffe, were convicted on morality charges.

Adina Verson and Katrina Lenk
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)

Soon after, we see the play being performed secretly in an attic of the Lodz ghetto, where Jews are determined to keep their theatre culture alive no matter what the risks.

Along with Topol, the ensemble of Katrina Lenk, Adina Verson, Tom Nelis, Mimi Lieber, Max Gordon Moore and Steven Rattazzi seem a true theatrical family as they lovingly play their multiple roles.

The connecting tissue of the piece's collage of moments is the "rain scene" where Asch's lesbian characters first consummate their passion. Near the beginning of the play we just hear the playwright's wife expressing her admiration for it. Then we see the disgusted reactions of the elder literary men of Warsaw at the play's first reading. We get a glimpse of the moment's beauty when Lenk and Verson perform it in street clothes. Finally, there's an onstage rainfall and the two women, dressed in their nightgown costumes, play the moment in Yiddish.

To see that honest expression of mutual love, and to know the emotions it stirred in its time - both outrage and admiration - is a breathtaking moment that connects the audience with theatre history.


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