Theater is in full bloom right now with one of the best shows ever onstage in Boston!
INDECENT now in its Boston premiere at The Huntington Theatre shimmers with its brilliant commingling of all the elements that make for great theater: a play within a play that throws light on its creators and history, and stuns with music, direction, performances, and a true story reclaimed in time to break your heart and renew your hope.
INDECENT is the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel’s transformative work, for her AND her audience. A co-production with The Huntington Theatre Company and Center Theatre Group, this production has been transplanted from Broadway to the Huntington stage along with many of its original cast members and Tony Award-winning director Rebecca Taichman.
Vogel’s play opens with its players framed in a classic golden proscenium, and arrayed in the 1930’s garb which presages their doomed fate. The true story of the play within Vogel’s play begins in 1906 when Sholem Asch penned a play called GOD OF VENGEANCE about a Jewish brothel owner who, in an attempt to redeem his moral failings, marries off his daughter Rifkele (Adina Verson) to a devout young Torah scholar. But she soon falls in love with one of the prostitutes Manke (Elizabeth A. Davis) living downstairs. This ironic turn of events sets off a provocative examination of Judaism through a roundelay of guilt, hypocrisy, sacrifice, and retribution.
Though the play was condemned as “indecent” in some quarters, it was quite successful in progressive yiddish theater circles at the time. However, when it premiered in 1922 and featured the first onstage Broadway kiss between two women, the production set off a firestorm of controversy resulting in a guilty verdict at trial on grounds of obscenity, a case later overturned.The play also became a lightning rod for rising antisemitism culminating in the holocaust.
Vogel, as an openly lesbian Jewish playwright has said she became transfixed by the play as a young grad student, and now, she has reclaimed this seminal piece of yiddish theater, placing the romantic relationship between two women at its fulcrum. INDECENT turns on the very question of decency, exploring the nature of morality, love, sexuality, hatred, religion, and identity, against the backdrop of a tragic history.
The play also celebrates “theater” in all its hilarious excess and glory, and theater as a sacred ritual with the power to raise a lost world from the ashes. That power finds haunting expression here as dust literally falls from the sleeves of the players, artists risking everything to preserve a vision of love and beauty, while asking fundamental questions which challenge us anew.
It’s a tall order; something way beyond stagecraft and more like witchcraft was required. Playwright, cast, and crew have conjured the spirit of a distant but familiar era which wafts over us like a prophetic dream. Taichman’s direction seamlessly straddles history’s continuum, as lines for immigration and lines to extermination echo each other across time and space. Vogel’s language crackles with life, and poetry. The actors aren’t merely alive, they luminesce in the dark, instruments in hand, playing their bittersweet songs of joy and sorrow.
The play climaxes in a rapturously beautiful tableau: two women, rain-drenched and translucent in white night gowns, reaching for each other, all of us dissolving with them in these fleet, fervent moments in the storm.
YOU MUST SEE INDECENT through May 25!!