Review Roundup: INDECENT at the Ahmanson Theatre; What Did The Critics Think?
"Indecent," by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel, opened on June 9 at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre. Directed by Rebecca Taichmanin a co-production with Huntington Theatre Company, the Tony Award-nominated "Indecent" will run through July 7, 2019.
This production features members of the original Broadway cast including Mimi Lieber("Act One" and "I'm Not Rappaport" on Broadway), Steven Rattazzi("Henry V" at The Public Theaterand "The Venture Bros."), Richard Topol("The Normal Heart" and "The Merchant of Venice" both on Broadway) and Adina Verson("Mozart in the Jungle," "The Strain") joined by Tony Award nominee Harry Groener("Oklahoma!," "Cats," "Crazy For You"), Tony Award nominee Elizabeth A. Davis("Once") and Joby Earle("War Horse"). Original musicians Matt Darriau and Grammy Award winner Lisa Gutkin (who also co-composed the music in "Indecent" with Aaron Halva) are joined by Patrick Farrell. Gutkin is also the music supervisor.
Vogel and Taichman (who won a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for "Indecent") have reassembled the Broadway creative team for this production, including choreography by David Dorfman, set design by Tony nominee Riccardo Hernandez, costume design by Emily Rebholz, sound design by Matt Hubbs, projection design by Tal Yardenand lighting design by Tony Award winner Christopher Akerlind.
"Indecent" is a deeply moving play inspired by the true events surrounding the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch's "God of Vengeance" - a play seen by some as a seminal work of Jewish culture, and by others as an act of traitorous libel. "Indecent" follows the history of an incendiary drama and the path of the artists who risked their careers and lives to perform it.
Let's see what the critics have to say!
Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: "Indecent" was originally produced by Yale Repertory Theatre and La Jolla Playhouse, where I reviewed it in 2015 before the work reached its pinnacle form on Broadway in 2017. Some of the playwriting weaknesses I noticed at La Jolla - the way, for instance, Vogel's particular passion for "God of Vengeance" is filtered through characters who speak in ways that don't always seem plausible or natural - were more effectively covered up in New York by the artistry and ardor of the company. This version is patchier. At the reviewed performance, Topol's Lemml, the anchor of the production, seemed hoarse from over-emoting. It's still not clear to me what stirs the finest fibers of his soul about "God of Vengeance." Yes, the play changes the life of this former tailor, who becomes the stage manager after responding favorably to a disastrous reading of the work in a Warsaw salon that leaves Asch no choice but to try his luck elsewhere in Europe. But for all its intrepid modernity, "God of Vengeance" has some hoary melodrama in its DNA.
Dany Margolies, Los Angeles Daily News: The actors who kept the production going, half-jokingly begging for food from their audiences in lieu of ticket sales, are the heroes here - particularly when Asch, after returning to Poland and witnessing the horrors there, and after futilely attempting to waken the U.S. government into action, turns reclusive. So, what shocks us now? The idea of a religious Jewish man running a brothel? A prostitute idealized? The sight of lesbians kissing? Or the fact that people focused on those things while America shut its doors and then its eyes to the Holocaust. But "Indecent" is subtle, relying on subtext where needed, though providing directness and visualization where needed. The superb acting is subtle. The exquisite designs are subtle.
Erin Conley, On Stage and Screen: The highlights of this production are Taichman's inspired, nuanced direction as well as the collective performance of the ensemble (rounded out by Harry Groener, Mimi Lieber, and Steven Rattazzi), who must work seamlessly as a unit to pull off this tale. Whether or not you have prior knowledge of God of Vengeance and the controversy surrounding it, the story is fascinating, and unfortunately feels relevant today, in a world where xenophobia, homophobia, and fear are still far too present. Appropriately for a story that celebrates the power of theater, the staging is rather magical, with a few striking visual moments that actually drew gasps from the audience. Vogel's script is infused with humor in all the right places, such as during a montage of the cast performing the play's final moments across Europe over the course of several years, with each repetition more over-the-top than the last as the actors sink deeper into their characters. After hearing about the "rain scene" between Menke (Elizabeth A. Davis) and Rifkele (Verson), a scene often described as rivaling the balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet in its romanticism, we finally see it at the end, and it is quite an unforgettable moment. Overall, this is important theater that sheds light on why we make theater in the first place, and why supporting it is so important, especially in difficult times.
Dany Margolies, OC Register: The actors who kept the production going, half-jokingly begging for food from their audiences in lieu of ticket sales, are the heroes here - particularly when Asch, after returning to Poland and witnessing the horrors there, and after futilely attempting to waken the U.S. government into action, turns reclusive... But "Indecent" is subtle, relying on subtext where needed, though providing directness and visualization where needed. The superb acting is subtle. The exquisite designs are subtle.