BWW Review: INDECENT Inspires Empathy & Connection at Theatrical Outfit
It is a special thing to see a production of your favorite show and it's even more special if that production is a great one. INDECENT at the Theatrical Outfit checks off that special box for me and I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried (a lot) during the curtain call.
Paula Vogel's use of language, dance, music, and an incredibly small cast creates a powerful story about Sholem Ash's play God of Vengeance that is equal parts demanding and rewarding for both performers and audience members alike. Theatrical Outfit's cast steps up to that demanding challenge without reservation and leans into the emotionally complicated story with palpable respect and admiration.
Theatrical Outfit's choice of this play during this season seems intentional. It's a story about admitting fault, allowing for differences, and acting-out against norms. This is not a show that can be taken lightly. Regardless if this is their intention or not, choosing a show that encourages empathy and honesty to this degree seems to be a call to action to do the same in our own lives as we enjoy the story onstage. The actors rally you to be a better version of yourself tomorrow than you are today because you never know what's coming next and who might come into our lives.
This call is especially effective as the character who represents the show's heart, Lemml played by Andrew Benator, is always open to seeing and being seen. Benator brings a level of raw vulnerability to Lemml that presents a mirror to the audience on stage wherein they can see themselves reflected. Sitting in your seat, you both want to protect him from the world and revel in his childlike joy. Benator's outstanding performance as the shy and sometimes awkward character makes it impossible not to enjoy Lemml's unique charm and storytelling.
What strikes the deepest chord at Theatrical Outfit's production is the palpable respect the performers have for the story they're telling. It is obvious with every glance, hair toss, and nostril flare that they have all put in all the time, effort, and love necessary to convey the depths of human experience in the show.
To the untrained ear, all of the different languages spoken and sung in the play may sound just fine regardless if they're correct or not. However, Theatrical Outfit didn't seem to think that would be good enough for their production - I got to hear their Yiddish coach mumbling behind me during the show about how the actors were handling the language on stage. Asking for that kind of help from their community illustrates their commitment to authentic storytelling.
One can usually see the nervousness in someone trying to learn and speak a new language, but not an ounce of that was in the bodies of any of the actors on stage as they switched from German, Yiddish, French, Spanish, and English. That dedication to pronunciation and accuracy sharpened the efficacy of their message and wove their spell over the audience even more tightly.
Shows often demand that actors play more than one character and tracking just one or two extra characters can be difficult - especially for stage managers. But, the actors in INDECENT made it seem so much easier than I knew it must have been. In particular, Brian Kurlander as Mendel and Christina Leidel as Halina step in and out of so many different characters, I completely lost track of how many different hats they wore. Yet they wore them all without breaking a sweat. Kurlander and Leidel's careful cultivation of distinctly different characters was perfectly tailored every time they swapped one hat for another even if they only had a few seconds to do it.
Another excellent example of this hat trick is when Brandon Michael Mayes as Avram marches offstage in a huff and nearly 20 seconds later appeared upstage as a different character ready for the next dance number. It seemed impossible how fast he was back on stage in his new garb. His dexterousness in dropping the grave Sholem Asch to don a gleeful dancer added even more to his already impressive performance.
Seldom outside of a musical do you see so much song and dance included in a show as you do in INDECENT. It's an equally integral part of the story and the actors make all of the beautiful choreography look wonderful. From raunchy cabaret dances to somber traditional dances, they confidently whirl in and out of each other and make any occasional mistakes part of their fun onstage. In particular, Pamela Gold as Vera is enchanting to watch. Her sure steps and delicate posture tell stories beyond her lines and make clear what can't be expressed verbally.
Shows that include live musicians often stick them in the orchestra pit, but INDECENT requires them to be in the thick of the action onstage which adds a magical dimension to the story. Three instruments: a clarinet played by Eric Fontaine, a violin played by Chip Epsten, and an accordion played by Rodger French dodge and weave around stage both into and out of the action. While the three may not be perfect actors, they are a perfect ensemble. They blended exceptionally well with each other and seamlessly with the action on stage. There isn't a weak link among them.
To mic or not to mic, that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler to project to the back of the house or to pray that the sound gods bless your system and everything works that night. It's a tricky question, and there's often no right answer. For this show, not using mics creates an intimate feeling with the audience and musicians and that adds to the magical vulnerability of the story.
However, there are times, especially sitting on the side of the house where the musicians live, that the music drowns out important lines and song lyrics. The words lose their way as the musicians bob and weave around the stage. It was frustrating to miss certain parts of the show that I knew were important while trying to enjoy the music at the same time. Clayton Landey as Otto was the one I often had the most difficulty hearing onstage over the instruments. Landey seems to favor extremes in his vocal performance, opting to vacillate between tantalizing whispers and booming declarations. His whispers, unfortunately, were often drowned out by the music and sometimes lost simply because he wasn't exactly facing my seat in the audience.
Much like the delicate balancing act of projecting over live music without mics, cultivating and maintaining so many distinct dialects and accents is a challenge that even professionals can struggle with performing. Stephanie Friedman as Chana seems to prefer sinking into dialects rather than snapping. Those extra few moments more she takes to transition from one character to another occasionally muddies who she is and when - even with the help of costumes and accessories.
Finally, Theatrical Outfit's ensemble spirit permeates throughout the entire space to invite everyone in the theater - from musicians and actors to audience members and ushers - to participate in the magic onstage. The actors' incredible trust in each other allows the audience to readily accept the dinging time jumps, new languages without subtitles, and the importance of impossibly long lines.
During a time where we feel misunderstood, unheard, and at each other's throats, Paula Vogel's INDECENT reminds us that we're much more alike than we think we are. Theatrical Outfit's production casts a radiating spell of empathy that's impossible to ignore. Their storytelling seems to be a call to action for any audience member spellbound by their incredible production.
INDECENT is an award-winning show playing at the Theatrical Outfit now through March 29th with reduced house sizes less than 100 people and general admission seating. It has a run time of approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission. Industry Night is March 16th and both a post-show talk-back and Pride Night are on March 20th. Get your tickets here!