A play within a play, INDECENT recounts the true story of the controversy surrounding “God of Vengeance,” a play written in 1906 by Sholem Asch. The Yiddish piece was produced in several European capitals and in the U.S. with some success. When the play was translated into English and brought to Broadway in 1923, however, things changed quickly. In fact, the cast of the original production was arrested for obscenity.
For years, the story fascinated Rebecca Taichman, a graduate student at the Yale School of Drama whose 2000 graduate thesis was a play which she wrote and directed about Asch’s play. But it was not until she encountered playwright Paula Vogel that the two co-created INDECENT. Directed by Rebecca Taichman, INDECENT was brought to Broadway in 2017 and won Tony, Obie, and Drama League awards for direction, as well as Tony and Drama Desk awards for best lighting design by Christopher Akerlind. Clearly, Asch’s play finally found its century.
INDECENT tells the tale of “God of Vengeance,” its loyal troupe members, and Sholem Asch’s response to his first and only play’s reception in the U.S. The play opens on a whimsical note as the joyous Jewish cast sing and dance with abandon to the music of Matt Darriau (wind), Patrick Farrell (accordion/percussion), Lisa Gutkin (violin), and Robert Payne (orchestra contractor). Rising from the ashes, they begin on a happy and upbeat note. Happily for those not gifted with the language, Yiddish lyrics are translated into English above the merry crew. With choreography by David Dorfman, the story sets out to charm the audience.
But what is INDECENT about “God of Vengeance?” The ingénue’s father just happens to run a brothel out of his basement. But he does not want his virginal daughter to have anything to do with his “employees.” As luck would have it, she soon finds herself attracted to papa’s most popular prostitute; and the two fall deeply in love. Themes like prostitution and lesbian love affairs might be acceptable in Europe – or even among the worldlier Jewish intelligentsia – but for the average American in 1923, this entire storyline was clearly a no-no and shocking besides. After all, this was the first lesbian kiss on an American stage. Thus the ensuing arrests, trial, and verdict of guilty.
Directed by the woman for whom the original historical events became a passion, Tony winner Rebecca Taichman does a brilliant job of helming the story within the context of the multiple environmental factors surrounding these characters – including immigration, World War II, the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, censorship, and a love unacceptable for its time. Kudos to an excellent ensemble cast led by Richard Topol, which plays Lemml, the tailor/stage manager for “God of Vengeance.” Each described in the play only as “actor,” Elizabeth A. Davis, Joby Earle, Harry Groener, Mimi Lieber, Steven Rattazzi, and Adina Verson all play their parts to perfection. Riccardo Hernandez’s scenic design captures the many emotional layers to the tale, with the able to assistance of Emily Rebhotz (costumes), and Matt Hubbs (sound). Also part of the production team is Christopher Akerlind, whose lighting won a Tony in 2017. Part joyous, part touching and poignant, part intense, part desperate, part tragic – INDECENT interweaves music, dance, and the many expressive levels inherent in this production into a resounding whole. This is a not-to-be-missed production.
INDECENT runs through July 7, 2019, with performances at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Ahmanson Theatre is located in the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Tickets range from $30 to $149. For information and reservations, call 213-972-4400 or go online.