Theatre Review: ‘Indecent’ at Theatrical Outfit

Photos by Jake Pearce

Theatrical Outfit is producing the Atlanta premiere of Paula Vogel’s play about a play, “Indecent,” directed by Mira Hirsch, running through March 29.

“Indecent” is a drama about a Yiddish play that was way ahead of its time: Sholem Asch’s 1907 work “God of Vengeance,” first produced in Warsaw in 1907 and a number of  European cities afterwards.

Then it was brought in to New York, where it was shown again in Yiddish and enjoyed a sort of succès d’estime, although it had its critics (what work doesn’t?).

“God of Vengeance,” translated into English, had its Broadway debut in 1923 and caused quite a ruckus. So much ruckus that it led to an entire cast being arrested for obscenity; you see, the play featured a kiss between two female actors (one playing a prostitute, one a brothel owner’s daughter).

And as playwright Paula Vogel writes, “In 1923 there was deep concern within the Jewish community about what Christians would think: ‘Do you dare to say this and show this in public?’ It did exactly what plays should do—it provoked people into talking.” So in 2017, nearly 100 years later, Ms. Vogel’s “Indecent” had a successful Broadway run, winning several Tony Awards.

What I’d like you to know is that Theatrical Outfit’s production has ghosts: When the lights go down and the seven marvelous actors begin a ghostly dance to klezmer music (a musical tradition of the Askenazi Jews of Eastern Europe) as bits of ash fall out of their overcoats—you get chills, because you can envision bits of the future. In fact, the delicate ambience achieved in this play is unlike any I’ve ever seen. It’s very difficult to talk about; it must be seen.

A character named Lemml (Andrew Benator) steps forward and announces that he is the stage manager tonight; he brings the ensemble together. As the Ingénues, Brandon Michael Mayes and Stephanie Friedman bring a youthful energy and also a moving vulnerability. By the way, the seven actors play over 40 roles—astonishing.

Brian Kurlander and Christina Leidel are the Middles; Clayton Landey (I remember his superb work in Alliance Theatre’s “Warrior Class”) and Pamela Gold are the Elders. Don’t worry if you feel you don’t know enough; remember, each actor plays several roles. It all comes together when you see it; and I hope you do. The play runs one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.

Ms. Vogel again: “In 1907, Sholem Asch was brave enough to write that Jews are no different than Catholics or Buddhists or people of any religion, in terms of having people in the tribe who may sell religion for a profit, or who are hypocrites. That’s a very hard thing for a man to do, especially in a time of burgeoning anti-Semitism. Then add in the play’s compassionate understanding of the powerlessness of women in that time and place—it makes a pretty compelling play.”

I’ve seen many of the actors before, but in “Indecent” they are at a pinnacle of excellence. I could go on about each of them but don’t have room, except to mention Mr. Benator’s command of the stage, Ms. Friedman’s grace and gliding movements, Ms. Gold’s humor and power, Mr. Kurlander’s assured, fluent portrayal, Mr. Landey’s amazing poise, Ms. Leidel’s easy sauciness, and Mr. Mayes, (lately of Horizon and Aurora’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”), who shows us his acclaimed “Curious Incident” was no fluke; this young man’s talent is dangerous.

You have all this to look forward to; and we gladly thank Director Hirsch for this labor of love, Music Director Chip Epsten, and Choreographer Ricardo Aponté. Kudos to musicians Chip Epsten, Eric Fontaine, and Rodger French.

“Indecent” is a masterful work whose echoes stay with you long after you leave the theatre.

For tickets and information, visit theatricaloutfit.org.

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