Whether it’s prescience or coincidence, Broadway is definitely experiencing theater in the age of Trump, from Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer-Prize winning “Sweat” to fellow Pulitzer winner Paula Vogel’s harrowing new work, “Indecent,” now at the Cort Theater. Its examinations of censorship, xenophobia and anti-Semitism are both brilliant and painfully timely.
Yet, its political overtones aside, one can also simply appreciate this 105-minute piece for the searing intelligence and gorgeous poetry of Vogel’s writing, the stunning visual imagination of co-creator and director Rebecca Taichman, and the exemplary work of its cast.
Chief among them is the heartbreaking and passionate Richard Topol as Lemml, whom we follow for four decades, beginning with his life as a poor Polish immigrant. Primarily by chance, this open-hearted man becomes the keeper of the flame for nearly 40 years for the Yiddish play “God of Vengeance,” written by a young Polish firebrand named Sholem Asch.
We watch as the work soon becomes a staple of European Yiddish theater in the early 20th century, playing everywhere from Berlin to Bratislava, despite its many incendiary themes, most notably the lesbian love affair (complete with an onstage kiss) between the seemingly innocent Rivkele and the worldly prostitute Manka.
However, it takes a transfer to the United States for the play to gain unwanted notoriety. Brought to New York in the early 1920s, it was a downtown sensation. But shortly after its producer moved it to Broadway, albeit in a watered-down English translation, the show was shut down on charges of obscenity, leading first to the arrest of its acting troupe, and ultimately to a variety of tragic consequences – mostly unforeseen – for many of the people involved
As this work unfolds, even with its digressions into unrelated musical sequences and frequent use of surtitles (as some of the dialogue is spoken in Yiddish), Vogel’s storytelling gains remarkable power. Unfortunately, we begin to realize what will end up as one of the play’s most pivotal moments (even as Lemml tells us in his opening monologue that he can never remember the end of this story); yet we are still stunned when it arrives.
For all of Vogel and Taichman’s skill, the unwavering commitment and facility of this acting troupe – which includes Max Gordon Moore, Katrina Lenk, Mimi Lieber, Tom Nelis, Steven Rattazzi and Adina Verson -- is the largest part of the equation for the production’s success. Each of these superb performers fully immerse themselves into their multiple roles. Indeed, it’s flesh and blood that turns “Indecent” from a mere cautionary tale into an indelible theatrical experience.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Katrina Lenk, Mimi Lieber, Max Gordon Moore, Tom Nelis, Steven Rattazzi, Richard Topol, Adina Verson
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 4/4/2017
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New York, NY 10036