'Indecent' by Paula Vogel
David Mirvish presents A Studio 180 Theatre Production at CAA Theatre
Cylla von Tiedemann
An intricately astounding and artfully crafted story of forward-thinking ideology
Even though the title is ‘Indecent’, it truly is a decent show but it’s more than just that.
In 1923, after widely celebrated productions of Sholem Asch’s ‘God of Vengeance’ in Europe, the production finally opened on Broadway in an English translation where audiences found the play disturbing and were shocked and disgusted by the plot. Asch’s work explored religious hypocrisy which garnered so much attention that the entire cast of that New York production was arrested and charged with obscenity. When the play first arrived in New York, however, it was presented in Yiddish Theatre where it was respected.
In 2015, playwright Paula Vogel debuted ‘Indecent’ where her play focused on what was going on behind the scenes of the 1923 controversial production. Vogel’s play explores what is the nature of theatre, anti-Semitism, censorship, and homophobia.
Absolutely marvelous to watch this production with a powerful ensemble of actors who play several roles and who are ready to share this story with dignity and respect. Laetitia Francoz-Levesque, Emilyn Stam and John David Williams exquisitely underscore and enhance the unfolding story through music.
Directed with the utmost ultimate care by Joel Greenberg who took me back to a time in the early twentieth century when things were just ‘different’ compared to the world we know, I left the CAA Theatre opening night in complete astonishment at seeing how the creation of art can be viewed from different extremes of unique individuals.
Not that these extremes of opposing viewpoints of artistic freedom are considered either right or wrong.
‘Indecent’ is that reminder of just how art truly does influence all of us right down to our very soul and core of our being.
Ken Mackenzie’s set design for me evoked that era of the early twentieth-century setting. The riser most amply allowed for excellent sightlines throughout the entire auditorium. A video projection along the top included the title of the play and underneath read ‘the true story of a little Jewish play.’
This is more than just a little Jewish play in my opinion. It is an epic one of proportions regarding art and censorship hidden behind homophobia and anti-Semitism all encapsulated within the vehicular realm of the theatre.
One of the stagecraft elements that caught my eye was in the opening when Lemml the stage manager of ‘God of Vengeance’ introduces the cast to us. It looks as if ashes are streaming out of not only his hands but also of the others actor as they step forward to speak to us. Highly effective image in my humble opinion. I kept being reminded of the phoenix rising from the ashes in the new world. And then the short statement projected at the top of the stage: ‘from ashes they rise’.
Powerful and haunting.
The ensemble cast is primo from start to finish.
Matt Barram’s Lemml, the stage manager of ‘God of Vengeance’, breaks the fourth wall to speak to us about this contentious play and the events which follow. Known as Lou when he comes to America, Barram’s welcoming demeanour to enter, at least for the moment, the safe area to learn more about what transpired during this time.
This unflinching and determined ensemble in playing several roles truthfully conveys the heart of the piece. Jonathan Gould plays the playwright of ‘God of Vengeance’ Sholem Asch whose unwavering determination in 1906 to get his play read in an upscale salon hits a brick wall when the lesbian love affair is revealed. She’s listed in the programme as Chana, but Jessica Greenberg plays Majde, Sholem’s extremely supportive wife, with passionate ardour.
Jessica Greenberg and Tracy Michaildis play the women who fall in love with each other both in the play and in real-time in the play. Both Greenberg and Michaildis bravely and securely seize the moment which pushes all of us into forward-thinking mode about the lives and loves of ALL people both in art and in real life.
Dov Mickelson, Sarah Orenstein, and Nicholas Rice play offer strong supporting performances as the effects of ‘God of Vengeance’ become strongly felt.
Final Comments: Another ‘must see’ for your fall things theatrical.
Running Time: approximately one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.
‘Indecent’ runs until November 6 at the CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge Street, Toronto. For tickets, visit mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333.
David Mirvish presents ‘Indecent’ by Paula Vogel
A Studio 180 Theatre Production
Set Designer: Ken Mackenzie
Lighting Designer: Kimberly Purtell
Projection Designer: Cameron Davis
Costume Designer: Michelle Tracey
Sound Designer: Thomas Ryder Payne
Music Director: Emily Stam
Performers: Matt Baram, Jonathan Gould, Jessica Greenberg, Tracy Michaildis, Dov Michelson, Sarah Orenstein, Nicholas Rice
Musicians: Laetitia Francoz-Levesque, Emily Stam, John David Williams.