Indecent is the story of the creation, production, and impact of The God of Vengeance, a Yiddish play written in 1903 infamous for its portrayal of a lesbian romance inside of a Jewish brothel. The main playwright, Sholem Asch, is condemned by his Jewish community for his creation, citing his romance plot as obscene and warning that his portrayal of Jews will only serve to stoke the growing wave of European anti-semitism. Nevertheless, The God of Vengeance becomes a smash hit in Europe and eventually is brought overseas to New York for its Broadway debut. There is contention, however, when American producers attempt to censor the play and as fascism rises in central Europe.
Built on incredibly strong elements in every direction, Indecent is a powerhouse of a show. The production manages to pull off an in-depth discussion of an incredible range of social topics; despite having such a lengthy list, the play takes care to address and develop each of the issues presented. Questions of challenging traditions, censoring artwork, addressing hypocrisy, and protesting injustice are all presented to the audience as multifaceted debates with no easy answers. This is done through well-articulated character dialogues and backstories which allow the audience to understand the complexities of each of the arguments.
Even more impressive, however, is the way that the pacing of the narrative keeps the audience engaged. Despite talking such heavy themes, the production takes care to zoom in on the lighthearted, human moments of the company to allow the audience to sympathize and identify with the thespians. Finally, this is all brought home with incredibly strong production value and acting. All the music is done live on stage: the musicians from the opening quartet remain part of the cast, participating in choreography and creating the score in real time. The acting is uniformly strong across all members of the cast. Each accent is pitch perfect and the interactions between the actors are dripping with chemistry. The drama is palpable when the actors confront Asche over revisions to the play; the unbridled passion of the lovers is felt without reservation. The production is polished to a mirror sheen and is impressive on nearly every level.
My only minor gripes come from the inevitable growing pains when a production is this large in scope. While each character felt well developed and deep, the sheer quantity of characters can lead to some confusing moments for the audience unless the change is well telegraphed through costume shifts or repetition through dialogue. Since actors play multiple parts, it's not always immediately clear which character each actor is playing. However, the learning curve is short and once each character is established it becomes easier to track and become wrapped up in the story again.
Indecent is funny, dramatic, and highly entertaining while still remaining topical and thought-provoking. Victory Gardens' production of Paula Vogel's play is a reminder of the power of the theatre and the profound hope it can instill in people, even in the most hopeless of times.
Highly Recommended ★★★★
Review by Ryan Moore
Indecent continues at Victory Gardens through November 4. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.