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‘Indecent’ Moves to Broadway With Entire Cast Intact

February 9th, 2017 Comments off

indecent

Daryl Roth, Elizabeth Ireland McCann and Cody Lassen, the producers of Indecent — the newest work by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive) — have announced that the entire original Off-Broadway ensemble will travel to Broadway when the production begins previews at the Cort Theatre on April 4, prior to its official opening night on April 18.

The Broadway cast of Indecent has – not unlike the theater troupe depicted in the play itself – been performing the play together for more than two years: during its development with the Sundance Theater Institute and Oregon Shakespeare Festival, followed by productions at Yale Rep, La Jolla Playhouse and the Vineyard Theatre, where Indecent had its New York City debut last summer.

A new play with music, Indecent is inspired by the true story of the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance about a Jewish family that lives above a brothel, hoping to gain respect by having their daughter marry into a prestigious family.

Called “superbly realized and remarkably powerful” by The New York Times and hailed as one of the best plays of the year by critics, Indecent charts the journey of an incendiary drama and the artists who risked their lives to perform it. Created by Vogel and director Rebecca Taichman (Stage Kiss), Indecent is set at a time when waves of immigrants were changing the face of America and offers a riveting look at an explosive moment in theatrical history.

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‘Indecent’: When a Kiss Killed a Broadway Show

May 17th, 2016 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

The cast of 'Indecent' at the Vineyard Theatre. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Indecent’ at the Vineyard Theatre. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

One of the things that roared loudest on Broadway during the Roaring Twenties was the lion of censorship, a raging beast that awoke to find post-World War I stages inundated with unbridled sex and profanity, resulting in the closing down of one show after the other. The first to be bitten arrived in 1923, when Polish writer Sholem Asch’s (1880-1957) controversial 1906 Yiddish play, God of Vengeance, a European sensation, ran into trouble. Austrian star Rudolph Schildkraut had done it in Yiddish at Off-Broadway’s Irving Place Theatre in 1921, then in English at the Provincetown Playhouse in 1922.

When this version moved to Broadway in 1923, it was shut down and the entire cast spent a night in jail; eventually the original conviction was overturned. Asch, meanwhile, turned to novels and never wrote another play.

The compelling history behind God of Vengeance, which later had several Off-Broadway revivals, inspired Rebecca Taichman to write an early version of Indecent as her Yale thesis. The play, a sort of biodrama about both Asch’s play and the writer himself, was rewritten by Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive), who’s credited as playwright, while she and Taichman are billed as having “created” it. Taichman, though, is responsible for the beautifully evocative staging, which uses Brechtian tropes to capture the theatrical ambience and Yiddishkeit surrounding Asch’s European and American worlds. Its showing at Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre follows its world premiere at Yale Rep and follow-up at La Jolla Playhouse.

Adina Verson (l) and Katrina Lenk in 'Indecent' at the Vineyard Theatre. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Adina Verson (l) and Katrina Lenk in ‘Indecent’ at the Vineyard Theatre. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

God of Vengeance, about a pious Jew, Yekel (Tom Nelis, outstanding), who has become wealthy by operating a brothel, was considered especially notorious because it depicted a lesbian love scene between the rain-soaked brothel owner’s daughter, Rifkele (Adina Verson, very fine) and a prostitute, the beauteous Manke (Katrina Lenk, my favorite), complete with a shocking kiss, a scene Asch (Max Gordon Moore, earnest) apparently agreed to cut to keep the play running.

Vogel indicts this failure to stand up for his art via the critical response of the stage manager character, Lemml (Richard Topol, poignant), who guides us through much of the action. Indecent exploits the kiss continually, even adding a heavy downpour for a climactic reenactment.

The rain, though, adds unnecessary excess to a story theatre-like presentation otherwise content to let the audience use its imagination as the actors morph from role to role on Riccardo Hernandez’s straightforward set of a raised, wooden platform backed by a brick wall.

As in so many other such works, actors are seen sitting on chairs waiting to make their entrances. Christophe Akerlind’s sensitive lighting and Emily Rebholz’s costumes (mostly suggesting the 1930s) are exceptional visual adjuncts. Tal Yarden’s supertitles, in English and Yiddish (some of them a bit fuzzy), fill in transitional gaps. Often, to suggest quick jump cuts, we see “a blink in time” projected.

Using a cast of seven actors and three musicians, with inserts of wonderful klezmer music (composed by violinist Lisa Gutkin and accordionist Aaron Halva) and lots of Hassidic-inflected movement (choreography by David Dorfman), the play progresses chronologically, moving from God of Vengeance’s creation in Warsaw, through its European stagings (always with Yekel about to crush his daughter with a Torah), to its New York legal problems, during which Asch refused to defend himself, a decision Vogel has said she continues to hold against him.

But the plot doesn’t stop there, continuing to move forward to incorporate a troupe of yellow star-wearing actors doing the play in a Lodz ghetto attic in 1943; the Holocaust has arrived. Still, it’s not until 1952 and a nod to the House Un-American Activities Committee (Asch had been “attracted by Socialists” in 1905) that the clock stops ticking.

The cast of 'Indecent' at the Vineyard Theatre. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Indecent’ at the Vineyard Theatre. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Indecent can be deeply moving, especially at moments such as when the actors allow ashes to drop from their sleeves, a powerful framing image, reinforced at the end by an “ashes to ashes” supertitle. Still, when Indecent reaches forward to include hot-button material like the six million, it spreads its net too wide. There’s already plenty of indecency to digest, from the problems of Jewish immigration and assimilation to the dramatic depiction of same-sex love to the travails of a traveling Jewish troupe to New York’s censorship invasions.

As for the latter: the authorities hit not only God of Vengeance but What Price Glory?, Ladies of the Evening, The Captive, The Shanghai Gesture, Sex, Lulu Belle, Pleasure Man, and others. Interestingly, Eugene O’Neill (Moore) shows up at a bar (where else?) to offer moral support for Asch while explaining why he’s unable to testify. Too bad there’s no subtitle to remind us that O’Neill’s own Desire under the Elms (1924) and Strange Interlude (1928) nearly felt the censor’s ax themselves. That would have been pretty indecent, too.

Indecent
Vineyard Theatre
108 E. 15th Street, NYC
Through June 12

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “A Civil War Christmas” & “Elf”

December 5th, 2012 Comments off

Every first Wednesday of the month, get caught up with what’s on stage with our review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents. This month, we look at two very different holiday musicals…

The cast of "A Civil War Christmas". Photo by Carol Rosegg.

A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS

Pulitzer-winning playwright Paula Vogel weaves together multiple stories and classic carols in her vision of Washington, D.C. on Christmas Eve, 1864.

“Written with an embracing expansiveness by Ms. Vogel…and featuring handsomely sung hymns and carols of the period, this unusual holiday pageant represents an illuminating alternative to the often garish or sentimental holiday fare foisted on theater audiences.” New York Times

“…endearing, occasionally trying play…” New York Post

“…Landau’s staging is mostly taut and uncluttered. It’s amazing what she can do with a handful of chairs and a bunch of stovepipe hats…” Entertainment Weekly

Mizer’s Two Cents: Intelligent, respectful and a bit overstuffed, this pageant — or better yet panorama — provides a serious-minded and ultimately moving antidote to the silvery tinsel of much holiday fare.  With so many characters and styles to introduce, the play takes time to gain forward momentum (it is not for those with itchy attention spans), but once the multiple strands begin to intersect there are many lovely pleasures to be found. Chief among these tastefully wrapped gifts are a “wow, did that really happen” sense of history (Lincoln on a midnight ride for a Christmas gift facing assassins!?), sweetly sung traditionals, inventive story-theater staging and a talented ensemble of actors skillfully playing multiple roles as well as musical instruments (including a commanding Sean Allan Krill, a vibrant Jonathan-David and a clarion-voiced Amber Iman.)

Read more…