Review by Angel Lam
Off Broadway, Play with Music
Runs through 12 June 2016
Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th St NYC
BOTTOM LINE: Transportive and deeply moving, this new play with evocative music and direction is a testimony to great theatre.
From the very opening of Indecent, the dimly lit, thick gray, wool coats and brown-gray hats, a bit worn and tired on the bodies of dancing actors, tells their own story. A sepia photo suddenly turns to life, but sadness is in the air, and leaking out from their sleeves…is that dust? Or sands and ashes of bygone memories?
There are many things universal about Paula Vogel’s new play with music, Indecent, directed by Rebecca Taichman. First, our narrator, Lemml (Richard Topol), introduces himself to us as the stage manager, and then introduces his troupe, “Our actors tonight…Vera Parnicki and Otto Godowsky…They play all of the fathers, all of the mothers, the sagest of our characters, or the ones who remain fools at any age.” Lemml is the soul of the story. He is memorable and reminiscent of the stage manager from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.
This play is inspired by true events surrounding the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance, and follows the path of the artists who risked their careers. The stereotypes, producer’s cuts and censorship they encountered are still alive today, though with differences in race and countries of origin. Why was the play so popular and well received in Germany and Europe but was condemned when it premiered on Broadway? Why was the producer and lead actor arrested and found guilty of obscenity on the New York stage? One hundred years after the play’s creation, it is well worth revisiting that moment through this revealing play.
Indecent speaks to us through sounds, sight and simple words. Three musicians are on stage and well integrated into the company of actors, including co-composers Lisa Gutkin on violin and mandolin, Aaron Halva on accordion and ukulele, and musician Mike Cohen on clarinet. With music, all of a sudden, we are in the bedroom of Asch (Max Gordon Moore) and his young wife Madje (Adina Verson) in 1906 Warsaw, or the nostalgic, cosmopolitan 1908 Berlin.
The play is a testimony to great theatre not only in its use of universal language to express different shades of human emotions, but also the many repetitions of space, silence, and scenes within the play. This lets us savor and reflect on its intricate details. The use of scene repetition lets us see them from different angles, literally and mentally, each time the device shads new light on the material. In addition, there are multiple moments that still make us laugh, despite being engulfed within a backdrop of an immensely sad story.
Especially memorable is when Lemml, at the opening of the play says, “Every night we tell this story, but somehow I can never remember the end… No matter, I can always remember the beginning." The story begins in 1906 Warsaw and we travel with the troupe of actors through performances in Europe in the 1910s, to New York's Ellis Island in 1920, and back in Poland in 1938-43. The climatic rain scene described in Asch's God of Vengeance of two women in love, is revealed in bits, and slowly throughout the play. By the end, it becomes something much greater, something very beautiful and otherworldly, and powerfully felt.
(Indecent plays at The Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street, through June 12, 2016. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without an intermission. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7; Thursdays through Saturdays at 8; and Saturday and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $79-100 and are available at vineyardtheatre.org or by calling 212-353-0303.)
Indecent is written by Paula Vogel and directed by Rebecca Taichman. Music is by Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva. Choreography is by David Dorfman. Costume Design is by Emily Rebholz. Set Design is by Riccardo Hernandez. Lighting Design is by Christopher Akerlind. Sound Design is by Matt Hubbs. Fight Director is Rick Sordelet. Stage Manager is Terri K. Kohler.
The cast is Katrina Lenk, Mimi Lieber, Max Gordon Moore, Tom Nelis, Steven Rattazzi, Richard Topol, and Adina Verson.