BWW Review: You Should Know Seattle Rep's INDECENT
When the Seattle Rep announced their season and I saw they were taking on Paula Vogel's incredible play "Indecent" I was thrilled. But even more so I was surprised as to how many of my friends hadn't heard of it. I mean, it was nominated for a Tony, and even had the entire thing shown on PBS at one point. But still it was only the major theater geeks that had this one on their radar. Well, now that it's here I'm pleased to state that the Rep's production completely met and exceeded my expectations and now I can share my thoughts on this stunning play with you, Dear Readers, and explain why you need to catch it.
First off, it's Paula Vogel, Pulitzer Prize winner for "How I Learned to Drive". If that's not enough for you let me just say this is one of the most enthralling plays whose staging and message grabbed ahold of me and wouldn't let go. In this true, blink in time we focus on Polish-Jewish playwright Sholem Asch (Antoine Yared) who in 1906 wrote a play called "The God of Vengeance" in Yiddish. A play that no one in his home country would produce due to its indecent themes. There's homosexuality, prostitution, and above all, rejection of faith. But one man, Lemml (Bradford Farwell), a novice to the theater, sees its brilliance and insists on helping Asch get his play seen. So, they travel from their home to Berlin, Moscow, and all over Europe putting up the play and thrilling audiences. By the 1920's they've made it to America, but the morality of the day takes issue with the show and Asch, once the champion of the show, has now become focused on the tragic events happening back home, leaving the show in the hands of Lemml.
Beyond the incredible writing, this play with music has so much going for it that it's hard to say where to begin. First off, its use of simple projections to set the scene and even the language is brilliant giving you a complete understanding of what's happening with the characters and what they're dealing with. Second, the inclusion of the music from the on-stage wandering musicians (Alexander Sovronsky, Kate Olson and Jamie Maschler) brings in a wonderful sense of fun to the production. And then there's the fabulous ensemble bringing these moments to life like no other all wrangled together by director Sheila Daniels and with all that's happening on the seemingly sparse set, designed beautifully by L.B. Morse, this is a Herculean task. Add to that the haunting lighting design from Robert J. Aguilar and the costumes from Beth Goldenberg which conveyed a multitude of characters with tiny, subtle changes, and what we're left with is a transfixing work of art.
And that art is presented by an extremely gifted ensemble, each playing multiple roles with absolutely clear distinction and commitment. Farwell's journey as Lemml is heartbreaking and his final moments are a stunner. Cheyenne Casebier and Andi Alhadeff take on the daunting task of playing all the various women who played the two lovers at the center of the play and they do it with grace and heart. Each one distinctive even when it's the same scene we've seen and each one filled with genuine, and thoughtful moments. And Alhadeff also shares some lovely scenes with Yared as she plays his wife and the two of them are fantastic as they explore the reality of the world beyond the play. And I must mention Julie Briskman and Ron Orbach who take on the elder roles including the harrowing final moments of the play within the play showing off its power.
The play examines the history of Asch's work and its dealings with censorship and in our current climate, shines a spotlight on how far we have, and have not, come, as well as how important it is for art to elevate and further the conversations. And it does it in a way that will leave you breathless. Plus, there's a startling look at the loss of culture and how some people's past are so easily swept away. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give the Seattle Rep's production of "Indecent" a "more people need to know this play" WOW. It begs to be seen. It demands to be seen. It should be seen.