BWW Review: INDECENT Comes to the JCC CenterStage

Indecent, currently playing at JCC's CenterStage Theatre, is one of the company's most ambitious productions to date because of its cultural significance, its significance in Jewish history, and the fact that this is its first time being staged in the Rochester area. And not unimportantly, it's also just a really entertaining piece of theatre.

Indecent, Broadway's 2017 sensation written by Paula Vogel, recounts the origin and controversy of Sholem Asch's 1906 play God of Vengeance, a story about a Jewish brothel owner whose daughter falls in love with a prostitute. Indecent follows Asch (Carl Del Buono), a Polish-Jewish novelist/playwright, as he first pens and casts the play, tours it around Europe, and transfers it to America-and eventually Broadway-where it received major backlash from both Jewish and secular audiences for its irreverence toward the Torah and scenes of sexuality; most especially, a same-sex kiss, something that Broadway audiences of today wouldn't blink twice at but which was unthinkable in the 1930's. The play eventually led to the arrest of the cast and producer on charges of obscenity and Asch's retreat from public life.

Indecent presents audiences and lowly theatre critics with so much thematic material to unpack: the show addresses antisemitism, sexuality, homophobia, the Holocaust, censorship, Jewish identity, and assimilation in America. Indecent also spectacularly displays the Yiddish language, music, dance, and actors that fluctuate between the play and the play-within-the-play, each of them portraying three-four different characters with vastly different personalities. It's not easy to draft a succinct encapsulation of the show-particularly a production of the show that's as good as the JCC's-without turning it into a doctoral dissertation, but I'll do my best.

It's hard to fathom the work that must have gone in to preparing for this production (though I was provided a brief insight into this process by attending the talk-back after Sunday's matinee). Each actor had to cultivate multiple characters both within the Indecent and God of Vengeance story lines, speak alternating languages including excerpts of Yiddish (and perform them with believable accents), and learn and perform Yiddish dance, along with the baseline dramatic acting, which also happened to be exemplary. This cast, director, and artistic team should be extremely proud of staging a production of Indecent that is just as good as the Broadway original (which can be seen on BroadwayHD for anyone interested in making the comparison).

There's no real standout in the cast, because "standout" implies that one is better than others, and in this cast they're all superb. The enthusiasm and energy of Lemml (Stefan Cohen); the delicacy, excitement, fear and despair of Asch; and the passion and beauty of all the characters brought to life by Sara Michelle Penner and Maya June Dwyer, all culminated in one of the JCC's best productions to-date. Adding to the top-caliber acting performances are a beautiful set and a trio of brilliant musicians whose energy and liveliness weave the scenes and characters together.

It's hard to overstate how important this play is, especially for our current cultural moment. With antisemitism, homophobia, and hate on the rise once again in our communities, the themes of Indecent are ever-present and ever-relevant in our everyday lives. Indecent is a giant of a play, in every sense of the word, and the JCC's production of it is not one to miss.

Indecent is playing at the JCC's CenterStage Theatre until April 14. For tickets and more information, click here.

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From This Author Colin Fleming-Stumpf

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