Indecent is the new play from Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel inspired by the true story of the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance.
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.
Set at a time when waves of immigrants were changing the face of America, this play with music is a riveting look at an explosive moment in theatrical history and comes to Broadway from its critically acclaimed, sold-out run at the Vineyard Theater.
Indecent was commissioned by Yale Rep and American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
FIVE STARS (out of five)
I was deeply moved by the play when it was at the Vineyard Theatre last year. On Broadway, with the same wonderful ensemble cast, it fills a much larger space without losing its essential intimacy. The script is Vogel’s, the staging Taichman’s, but the two are so lovingly intertwined as to be almost inseparable. The seven actors—Katrina Lenk, Mimi Lieber, Max Gordon Moore, Tom Nelis, Steven Rattazzi, Richard Topol and Adina Verson—weave multiple roles into a seamless whole. The same is true of the music that flows through the show, performed by onstage musicians: violinist Lisa Gutkin and accordionist Aaron Halva, who cowrote the original klezmer-accented score, and clarinetist Matt Darriau.
Among the intriguing questions proposed by “Indecent” is the role of puritanism in forming America, in contrast to the tolerance of unorthodoxy in cosmopolitan Europe. Vogel also interrogates the false promise of welcome and assimilation. For some immigrants to America, the proverbial “melting pot” turned out be a bitter stew of disappointment and ongoing displacement. The legacy of both these themes resonates compellingly in our shared present.
This is not a linear production, so scenes in real time bleed into times past and future, and backstage scenes echo scenes within the play. But from time to time the audience can’t help but apply its own knowledge — of the ominous threat of Hitler’s gathering power in Germany, for example — to scenes in which the company calmly discusses whether to bring their successful play to the United States We already know the outcome of their professional arguments. But such is the tension of the production, you want to stand up and warn this brave little troupe to catch that ship before it sails.