Friday, May 5, 2017

Broadway Review—Paula Vogel’s Play “Indecent”

Written by Paula Vogel; directed by Rebecca Taichman
Opened April 18, 2017
Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street

The cast of Indecent (photo: Carol Rosegg)
When two women kissed on a Broadway stage in 1923 in Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance, it caused a scandal. The show was shut down, something that didn’t happen during many European stagings since the Polish-Jewish playwright Asch wrote it in 1907. But the unique prudishness of the United States—even in a culturally rich and ethnically diverse city like New York—demonstrated that intolerance rears its ugly in many ways.

Paula Vogel’s play Indecent follows the complicated and haunting history of God of Vengeance, from its first reading in a Warsaw, Poland, literary salon to its being enacted one act at a time in the Lodz Ghetto by performers who don’t know if they’ll get to perform the last act before the Nazis round up everyone. An acting troupe is introduced, and the performers are seen onstage and off, their personal lives intertwined with the fictional but very real characters they play in Vengeance. Pivotal scenes are reenacted from various productions of the play, giving a real sense of not only its historical importance, but also its enduring dramatic interest.

Indecent is stimulating without being particularly illuminating, despite an early image of ashes spilling out of the characters’ clothing powerfully evoking what happens to concentration camp victims. But even if it’s admittedly manipulative, Vogel and her sensitive director Rebecca Taichman make effective use of Brechtian stage devices that allow the non-linear narrative to flow more interestingly than it might have otherwise.

The klezmer-like music performed onstage is nicely integrated into the drama, with the versatile instrumentalists joining in on the action at times (the ingenious choreography is by David Dorfman). The outstanding performers, all of whom play multiple roles, are led by the winning actress Katarina Link, whose intimate scenes with Adina Verson—not only in their censored onstage kiss but their warm offstage relationship—are the linchpin of the plays God of Vengeance and Indecent.

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