Review: INDECENT Centers on Love Winning Over the Forces of Hate as Told by the Author and Performers of Sholem Asch's Groundbreaking Play GOD OF VENGEANCE
Amazing at it seems, Sholem Asch wrote his ground-breaking play GOD OF VENGEANCE in 1906 at a time when subjects, such as lesbians in love and what could be interpreted as very anti-Semitic remarks in the text, were not deemed appropriate for public discussion, especially among Jewish communities. Even the first production team in Poland, of which Asch was a member, encouraged him to burn the play, considering it not appropriate for the stage. Thankfully, he did not respect their wish and went on to produce the play to great success among the Jewish theater-going community throughout Europe before immigrating to America in 1920. But when the play was produced on Broadway in 1923, which contained the first gay kiss to been seen on The Great White Way, it was shut down and the entire production team put on trial for indecency.
That history is the basis for the musical INDECENT by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel, inspired by the true events surrounding the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch's play, seen by some as a seminal work of Jewish culture, and by others as an act of traitorous libel, as it follows the history of an incendiary drama and the path of the artists who risked their careers and lives to perform it.
When you enter the Ahmanson Theatre, the entire acting company is seated in a row onstage, dressed as early 20th Century immigrants with suitcases at their sides. Several carry instruments, specifically those needed to perform the Eastern European klezmer music performed throughout the production. As the actor's begin to react to the story projected on the scenic wall behind them, the play is introduced by the original 1906 company's stage manager, Lemml (Richard Tobol from the Broadway cast), who takes us into Asch's creation of GOD OF VENGEANCE after speaking about it with his wife and friends. And its history takes off from there, focusing on the companies which produced and actors who appeared in his groundbreaking play from its inception through a new producer's request to present his own adaptation in the 1950s, just as Asch was leaving the country while being pursued by the House on Un-American Activities for his Socialist views at the turn of the 20th Century.
Playwright Paula Vogel shared one of the reasons she created the play was her concern that Americans were again losing compassion for groups of people different from themselves, be it for religion, sexual orientation, or country of origin. Certainly, the scenes of the Jewish theater company members behind the wall of the Warsaw Ghetto where they are performing Asch's play in a hidden attic begging for a few pennies or food from their minimal audiences just before being led into a long concentration camp line, speaks to what is going on in our political climate today with discussions of a wall being built to keep people out. Dare we wonder what is next? It's another example of how the theater world, and art in general, holds such an important place in society as a truthful way to examine the causes and consequences of fear and hate on the citizens of the world. We must remember and never repeat the same behavior again.
Vogel and director Rebecca 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 Yarden and lighting design by Tony Award winner Christopher Akerlind. This production features members of the original Broadway cast including Mimi Lieber. Steven Rattazzi, Richard Topol, and Adina Verson, who are joined by Tony Award nominees Harry Groener and Elizabeth A. Davis, along with another Broadway pro, Joby Earle.
Original musicians Matt Darriau and Grammy Award winner Lisa Gutkin (who also co-composed the music in "Indecent" with Aaron Halva and acts as the production's music supervisor) will be joined by Patrick Farrell and Elizabeth A. Davis.
Needless to say, INDECENT now onstage at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre in a co-production with Huntington Theatre Company, magnificently directed by Rebecca Taichman, is as close to a Broadway-quality production as you will ever see in the City of Angels, with incredibly entertaining, stylized movement performed by triple-threat performers, guaranteed to draw you into not only the story but the necessity of its truth being brought to the stage now.
Tickets for INDECENT performances through July 7, 2019, are available by calling (213) 972-4400, online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org or at the Center Theatre Group Box Office located at the Ahmanson Theatre. Tickets range from $30 - $155 (subject to change). The Ahmanson Theatre is located at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012. Run time is 1 hour 45 minutes without an intermission, with much Yiddish used but always translated into English (or vice versa) via projections.
Photo credit: Craig Schwartz