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Broadway Reviews


Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - April 18, 2017

Indecent by Paula Vogel. Created by Paula Vogel & Rebecca Taichman. Directed by Rebecca Taichman. Choreography by David Dorfman. Scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez. Costume design by Emily Rebholz. Lighting design by Christopher Akerlind. Sound design by Matt Hubbs. Projection design by Tal Yarden. Hair and wig design by J. Jared Janas & Dave Bova. Co-composers and co-music direction by Lisa Gutkin & Aaron Halva. Fight Director Rick Sordelet. Dialect Coach Stephen Gabis. Cast: Katrina Lenk, Mimi Lieber, Max Gordon Moore, Tom Nelis, Steven Rattazzi, Richard Topol, Adina Verson, Matt Darriau, Lisa Gutkin, Aaron Halva.
Theatre: Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue
Tickets: Telecharge

The Cast
Photo by Carol Rosegg

It's almost impossible today to imagine a time when a Broadway play would have been shut down for obscenity, especially about the long-since-accepted topic of homosexuality. But Paula Vogel's play Indecent, which just opened at the Cort, reminds us in jolting ways that this was a hard-and-fast reality not many decades ago. You need travel back less than 100 years, to 1923, to find a once-prominent, now-forgotten example in Sholem Asch's The God of Vengeance, which combined Jewish tradition with forbidden love of the lesbian kind to result in a production that was not allowed to stay open for long. And in her work, which she created with Rebecca Taichman (who also directs), Vogel explores the ins, outs, and copious changes that affected Asch's play and those who experienced it from the stage, the wings, and, by extension, the audience.

Although there's no shortage of scenes capturing such moments from every angle, this is no garden-variety backstager. Context is critical to the method and the material alike. You get one strong dose of it from the story itself, which sparks as Sholem (Max Gordon Moore) completes the play and "markets" it to an industry reluctant to shake conventional wisdom and religiosity as this one does. Another, even more potent, comes from the Yiddish troupe that is presenting that story, complete with a narrating stage manager (Richard Topol) and three musicians (Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva, who co-composed the score, and Matt Darriau) who provide the era- and culture-appropriate soundtrack of the tragic occurrences they document. But this is no gimmick: The fusion of the two realities, which takes the full (intermissionless) 100-minute evening to accomplish, is an explosive history lesson of its own.

It comprises the complex relationship between the two women who play the lovers (portrayed by Adina Verson and Katrina Lenk), who enact their own tangled version of their characters' drama; the tortured career of the esteemed Viennese actor Rudolph Schildkraut (Tom Nelis), who pays no small price for his involvement; Lemml (Topol), who falls in love with The God of Vengeance and appoints himself its de facto guardian; the fate of Sholem, who turns his back on it for reasons we only gradually understand; and more. And yet the constant weaving in and out of these elements, the framing device, and still other events that won't be spoiled here never becomes confusing, in part because of the brutal clarity of the writing and the staging, and in part because of the projections (by Tal Yarden) that ensure you don't lose track of what you're watching, who's participating, and when it's happening.

Max Gordon Moore, Adina Verson, Richard Topol, Katrina Lenk,
Mimi Lieber, and Steven Rattazzi
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Riccardo Hernandez's stark set, an imposing wooden platform with its own layers of meaning, further contribute to this, as do Christopher Akerlind's unforgiving lighting, Matt Hubbs's piercing sound, and David Dorfman's haunting choreography; the costumes, mostly rags done just right, are by Emily Rebholz. The actors, who also include Mimi Lieber and Steven Rattazzi, are each masterful, ornamentation free and correctly sized for conveying small feelings in a Broadway-size house. (They have, in other words, had no trouble scaling upward since Indecent premiered Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre almost a year ago.) Particularly affecting is Topol, both as our meta-guide and the man who's moved to action by Sholem's words, but Nelis is also notably excellent at suggesting an extinct performance vernacular that doesn't junk what we find digestible in 2017.

For what it is, Indecent could not much be improved—its blend of form and function is total enough to be seamless, and it packs an emotional wallop for reasons (and from sources) you may not expect, so it's far from merely an intellectual exercise. The only thing that occasionally falls out of focus is, strangely, The God of Vengeance itself. Vogel only unveils for us two of its scenes, and though they're adroitly used, it can be difficult to get a firm sense of Asch's play as a whole from them. Sure, much is said, by these people who know (and, in some cases, are living it) firsthand, but a great deal about it we simply must accept on faith.

But that, too, eventually becomes part of the point, as viewpoints and interpretations of it collide time and time again, requiring everyone to discover for themselves how and why it speaks to them, and then choose what steps to take (or not take) as a result. Theatre, like religion, love, and so many of the other forces that drive our lives and Vogel's compelling, breath-stealing play, is often in the eye of the beholder. That's what makes all those things great—and what, ultimately, makes Indecent great as well.


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