Yale Repertory Theatre
“Indecent,” Paula Vogel’s fascinating and endlessly intriguing world premiere play, is currently being given a fine, free-flowing production at the Yale Repertory Theatre. As co-created by Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman (who also serves as the astute director of the play), “Indecent” tells the story of the journey of a 1907 Yiddish play by Sholem Asch, called “The God of Vengeance,” and how it was produced, despite much controversy, in such places from Warsaw to Berlin, before finally arriving on Broadway in 1923.
“Indecent” employs a cast of actors (referred to as the “Members of the Troupe” in the program), as well as three musicians, who effortlessly weave throughout the show in various roles, with no one performer being assigned a specific character. While this conceit can feel slightly confusing at the start, it works flawlessly and keeps the production spinning smoothly from scene to scene. “Indecent,” running nearly two hours, with no intermission, can feel slightly overlong, but both the play and its production are so arresting that this work easily holds one’s attention from beginning to end.
The controversy in the play “The God of Vengeance” is that it contains a tender love scene between two women. In the program for “Indecent,” it is stated that Sholem Asch was advised to “burn” the play, and it was eventually censored, with the lesbian love scene cut, when it finally moved to Broadway. What’s wonderful about “Indecent” is that it manages to embrace both the history of the time period it takes place in, as well as refracting it through the creators’ eyes, from a 2015 perspective and sensibility. Paula Vogel certainly keeps true to the time period, with the characters speaking both Yiddish and English (translations are projected on the back wall of the theatre, as well as on the walls on either side of the stage) and the three gifted musicians onstage, Lisa Gutkin, Aaron Halva, and Travis W. Hendrix, play music that sounds indicative of the era being examined (Gutkin and Halva are the composers of this wonderful music).
In addition to the musicians, the actors onstage do a super job of being able to change characters, locations, and time periods flawlessly, as the playwright dictates, and it is clear throughout exactly whom everyone is playing and what scene is being examined. Standing out, in a cast of equals, is the excellent Richard Topol, who actually does play the one character noted in the program, the part of “Lemml, The Stage Manager”: he oversees the action of the entire show, offering illuminating commentary, as well as playing a number of different parts. The contributions of the other performers are similarly terrific, with noted work by the enjoyable Steven Rattazzi; the gruff but sympathetic Tom Nelis; the mother-like Mimi Lieber, and Max Gordon Moore, who superbly plays Sholem Asch through the majority of the play.
Still, it must be said that Adina Verson and Katrina Lenk are the true stars of “Indecent.” Playing the lesbian couple in the play, both actresses give brave and beautiful performances, allowing the audience to see the passion between these two women. On Riccardo Hernadez’s bare but appropriate set design, these actresses embody both love and danger onstage and seem to straddle the time periods between 1907 and 2015. In a coup de theatre not to be revealed here, “Indecent” lets these two characters share a gorgeous moment near the conclusion that gives full weight to both the original intention of the playwright being examined, Sholem Asch, and that of Paula Vogel, the playwright who shines a light into this previously unexplored chapter of theatre history
.“Indecent” at the Yale Repertory Theatre is quite an achievement for everyone involved, with chief credit going to Paula Vogel and director/co-creator Rebecca Taichman and their fantastic group of actors and musicians. Is “Indecent” perfect? The answer to that question would probably be a qualified no, just because of the slight feeling of over length and, truthfully, one would certainly have to see the show a second time to fully embrace everything that transpires onstage. “Indecent” is a satisfying and probing piece of theatre and I am curious what its future will be beyond the stage of the Yale Repertory Theatre.
“Indecent” continues performances at the Yale Repertory Theatre through October 24, 2015. For tickets, please visit http://www.yalerep.org or call the box office at 203-432-1234.