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Review: ‘Indecent’ Wounds, Rapturously

By Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, May 1, 2017

Is it possible to go to the theater and not have your evening informed by the funhouse political environment we are living in? I get pretty tired of nearly every review, whether film or book or play, somehow making a connection to the Cirque du Trump.

But sometimes it is impossible not to make the connection. In Indecent, when one of the many characters (multitudes, played by a brilliant, chameleon-like cast of 7, plus three on-stage musicians) arrives on Ellis Island and steps to the front of the stage and, eyes wide with amazement and joy, proclaims, “America!” it is impossible not to wonder if immigrants will ever feel that way again. If they will ever land here with hope and expectations and boundless optimism, the way my grandparents did, and yours, and yours.

Ah, well. It adds another layer of pathos and pain to the brilliant production of Indecent, newly arrived on Broadway after a successful run downtown. Paula Vogel, in a long-awaited Broadway debut, has crafted a story that moves in mysterious ways. It is enchanting, and wondrous, and painful, and theatrically thrilling.

It starts with the cast seated far upstage, unmoving, in clothes so dark and drab you almost don’t notice them at first. When they stand, ashes flow from their sleeves and the audience gasps. Fluidly switching roles, languages, nations, singing and dancing to both period and original music, they tell us the story of God of Vengeance, the early 20th century Yiddish play by Sholem Asch. God of Vengeance is the tale of a Jewish brothel owner and his virgin daughter, who falls in love with one of his whores. The play was performed throughout Europe, finally arriving on Broadway in 1923, where the entire cast was arrested for indecency.

But that is just the bones of the story. There is flesh, and love, and rainfall, and multiple lands and languages. A remarkable amount of people and incidents are crowded into the play’s less than two hours running time, but thanks to the brilliant cast and some well-placed supertitles, there is never a moment of confusion. The play somehow manages to be both dreamlike and piercing, universal and very specific, unique to its time and completely relevant to today. It proves the power of art to move, to provoke, and to be our memory. In her program note, playwright Vogel says, “I believe the purpose of theater is to wound our memory so we can remember.” I was deeply wounded. And I will remember.


Indecent is at the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street, in an open run. Run time is 1 hour and 45 minutes. Written by Paula Vogel. Created by Paula Vogel and 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; co-composers / co-music directors: Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva. Cast: Katrina Lenk, Mimi Lieber, Max Gordon Moore, Tom Nelis, Steven Rattazzi, Richard Topol, and Adina Verson.


Cover: (l. to r.): Max Gordon Moore, Adina Verson, Richard Topol, Katrina Lenk, Mimi Lieber and Steven Rattazzi in ‘Indecent;’ photo: Carol Rosegg.


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