The play Indecent, receiving a riveting production at Playhouse on Park, is inspired by the 1906 Yiddish play, The God of Vengeance, written by the Polish-Jewish playwright Sholem Asch. The work was highly controversial at the time. It showed the love of two women on stage, took place in a brothel, and characterized Jews as less than heroic figures. Still, the production toured Europe and Off-Broadway to great acclaim in the early part of the 20th Century. Its transfer to Broadway, however, was interrupted by the police who arrested the cast and producer for obscenity, for which they were found guilty. The acting troupe, despondent, returned to their Polish homeland. Desolate, with almost no money and food, the performers still managed to stage their show in an attic space with just a handful of people in attendance just as the Nazis moved in and, we assume, forcibly took them away.
It’s very easy to characterize Indecent as a Holocaust play. However, the show is so much more. Playwright Paula Vogel explores the question of what is art? What is its purpose? Sholem Asch sought to depict the Jewish people as real individuals, with moral and ethical dilemmas as opposed to the thrust of most writers of the day that only wrote more positive portrayals. Ms. Vogel delves into the transformative power of the theater and the passion it produces among artists and the audience. This zeal is fervidly embodied by the character of Lemml, a poor tailor who’s life is forever changed by his introduction and continued involvement with productions of the play.
Ms. Vogel, a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright (How I Learned to Drive), adeptly breathes life into each character in the show. She also effectively weaves into the framework of the play such of-the-moment issues as Anti-semitism and censorship
The cast of Indecent is superb. Playhouse on Park needs to be applauded for assembling such an outstanding group of actors. Each of them perform multiple roles as they imbue their characters with sensitivity, pathos, and a joy for life and their art. While the entire ensemble is notable, two members of the troupe deserve special praise. Dan Zimberg plays Lemml, the tailor (and sometimes narrator), who’s devotion and adoration to The God of Vengence is boundless. He is the heart and soul of the play. Bart Shatto is impressive with the range of characters - primarily the older gentlemen - he depicts. He infuses his portrayals with an emotional depth, dynamism and comic flair.
Director Kelly O'Donnell brings an assured hand to the staging of the show. Scenes and characters flawlessly meld together, making the intermission-less production move forward with swiftness and aplomb. She seamlessly incorporates Katie Stevinson-Nollet’s vibrant bursts of choreography as well as the musical numbers under the Direction of Alexander Sovronsky and Jeffrey Salerno’s Sound Design. Her use of Supertitles are easy to read and provide just the right amount of assistance in telegraphing scenes.
Johann Fitzpatrick’s Scenic Design is simple, yet fluid, helped immensely with Joe Beumer’s varied Lighting schemes. Izzy Fields’ Costume Design is at its best when evoking the garb of Eastern Europe at the turn of the century.
Indecent, another bravo production from Playhouse at Park in West Hartford, running through February 26. Click here for dates, times, and ticket information.