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Photo: Carol Rosegg Review
If reading the newspaper isn’t enough to scare and remind you of the dangers of puritanism and censorship, one only needs to head down to the Vineyard Theatre to see Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman’s harrowing new work, “Indecent”. But moral lessons aside, head down anyway simply to view the searing intelligence of Vogel’s writing, the stunning visual imagination of Taichman’s direction, and the exemplary work of seven remarkable actors.

Chief among them is the heartbreaking Richard Topol as Lemml, who we follow for four decades, beginning with his life as a poor Polish immigrant. Primarily by chance, this open-hearted young man becomes the keeper of the flame for the play “God of Vengeance,” written by a young firebrand named Sholem Asch (beautifully rendered by Max Gordon Moore). The work soon became a staple of European Yiddish theater in the early 20th Century despite its many incendiary themes, most notable the lesbian love affair (complete with an onstage kiss) between the seemingly innocent Rivkele and the worldly prostitute Manka.

Brought to New York in the early 1920s, the play continued its successful run downtown in Yiddish until the seemingly savvy producer Harry Weinberger moved to it Broadway in a watered-down English translation. In Vogel’s telling, that move was enough to anger the mainstream New York Jewish community, led by Rabbi Joseph Silverman, whose complaint to the New York City police led to the show being shut down on opening night, the arrest of its acting troupe, and a variety of tragic consequences – mostly unforeseen – for many of the people involved, including Asch and Lemml.

As this 100-minute intemissionless work unfolds, Vogel’s storytelling gains remarkable power and we become increasingly aware of why Taichman has made some of her directorial choices (including the use of three onstage musicians). Unfortunately, as well, we begin to realize the play’s inevitable conclusion (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. And if Vogel has a certain political agenda as well in choosing this subject matter– this is clearly a reaffirmation of the need for marriage equality and gay rights – so be it.
The unwavering commitment and facility of this acting troupe – which includes Kartina Lenk, Mimi Lieber, Tom Nelis, Steven Rattazzi and Adina Verson -- is a key part of the equation for the production’s success as they fully immerse themselves into each of their multiple roles. Indeed, the human elements of every kind are primarily what turns “Indecent” 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

Open/Close Dates
Opening 4/27/2016
Closing 6/19/2016

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Theatre Info
Vineyard Theatre
108 East 15th Street
New York, NY 10003