How it’s New York: ‘Indecent’ describes an event that happened in New York City: Sholom Asch’s play ‘God of Vengeance’ was put on trial for indecency in 1923, due to a lesbian kiss.
How it’s Irish: Eugene O’Neill appears in one scene. Lisa Gutkin of The Klezmatics wrote the music; Gutkin also plays Irish trad.
One of the best plays on Broadway closes tomorrow, Aug. 6. If you haven’t seen “Indecent” by Paula Vogel yet, run and get a ticket.
Director Rebecca Taichman unexpectedly won the Tony Award for best director, as well as the same from Outer Critics Circle. The play should have been secure for years, but at least it extended from a June closing to tomorrow’s. She and Vogel (“How I Learned to Drive,” “The Baltimore Waltz”) created the play together.
Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva created the music, which is played live onstage, sometimes by performers. Sometimes it’s Yiddish-flavored, sometimes it’s cabaret, always it’s tuneful and gorgeous. In a scene with playwright Eugene O’Neill (who loved “God of Vengenace”) it’s Irish. The choreography by David Dorfman is witty and inventive.
“Indecent” had its New York opening at The Vineyard theatre last spring and transferred to Broadway. That’s remarkable when you consider its serious subject: the history of “God of Vengeance,” a play that features a lesbian kiss at its heart.
“Indecent” demonstrates the amazing power of theatre in front of your eyes.
As Leml (Richard Topol), an unassuming man, falls in love with Asch’s words at a reading of the script in Yiddish in 1906 Warsaw, then becomes a stage manager, traveling to America to manage the play here, then ultimately becomes the play’s champion and travels with it back to Europe and stages it in ghettos in the Nazi era, we go with him to see how this story of love in the face of brutality can mean so much. Even when Asch has given up on the play, Leml will not.
At that first reading, Leml asks, “This is theatre?” Then, rapt, says, “It is wonderful.”
He’s our narrator, and when he begins talking to us, he says, “Somehow I can never remember the end.” The company
dance, shaking ash out of their cloaks.
Later on, in a long line– this time not to get into the country but for a more sinister reason– he moans, “please don’t be the end!”
Both at The Vineyard and on Broadway I could hear people sobbing. Not dabbing away a tear quietly but sobbing.
But “Indecent” has more than just darkness in it, though it covers a dark period of Jewish history. There are cabaret songs, there’s the fun of watching the same closing scene get “milked” as early on the company tour through Europe (projections orient us)
Though technically it is a “play with music” rather than a musical, there’s a LOT of singing and dancing, and all of it is gorgeous and creative.
It stabs the heart and uplifts the spirit at once. It demands to be seen.
The press agency writes:
“Indecent” will continue its life beyond Broadway as national and international theatres are scheduled to present licensed productions in their upcoming seasons, beginning with The Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, this season, and The Huntington in Boston, and into next season with 20 productions anticipated at theaters in the following cities for 2018-2019: Philadelphia, PA; Palm Beach, FL; Toronto, Canada; Kansas City, MO; Indianapolis, IN; St. Louis, MO; Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; Denver, CO; Montreal, Canada; Washington, DC; Seattle, WA; Sarasota, FL; Dallas, TX; Chicago, IL; Houston, TX; Portland, OR; Tucson, AZ; Phoenix, AZ; and Tel Aviv, Israel.