Mazel Tov to Daring ‘Indecent’ at PCS! Review by Lisa Panzer
PCS Director Thomas Robert-Irvin, cast and crew have outdone themselves in this extraordinary production of ‘Indecent’, a play about a play that raised hell on Broadway. This superbly staged story hits upon a terrible and tumultuous time period in history in an educational, entertaining, and fluid fashion. The subject of the play – or inner play – ‘The God of Vengeance’, written in Yiddish in 1906 by a young Sholem Asch, is set in a brothel run by a Jewish father and husband who is running a brothel in his basement in order to have the means to raise his daughter piously, and purchase her a place in society. This purloined attempt at snaking into ‘society’ bites him on the heel when his little girl falls in love with one of his working ‘girls’. After years of successful runs across Europe, on March 6th, 1922 obscenity and indecency charges bring down the curtain on the Broadway opening of ‘The God of Vengeance’, sending 12 actors, and the Producer Harry Weinberger, to jail.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel had read ‘The God of Vengeance’ in her early twenties and was duly impressed by the daring topics Asch had brought to the fore (hypocrisy, homosexuality, racism, censorship, immigrants, misfits, the oppressed and more), Asch’s sensitivity towards the disadvantages women endured at the time of his writing, and of his tender depiction of the desire drenched love scene between the two women under the falling rain. As Yale Rep playwright in residence, Vogel teamed up with 2000 Yale School of Drama graduate Rebecca Taichman, whose thesis project was directing a staging of the trial “The People vs. ‘The God of Vengeance,’” at Taichman’s invitation. Their collaboration, a music infused drama, including a 3-piece klezmer band, comedy and cabaret numbers interspersed among cultural history and immense tragedy, debuted on Broadway in 2017. Nearly 5 years later, it has been brought to PCS where a very decent (terrific) version beckons, and the messages remain relevant.
Seven spectacularly versatile actors and three triple talented musicians (Alyssa Cherewaty- Nelly/Violin, Steve Zimmerman- Mayer/Clarinet and Jack O’Neill- Moriz/Accordian) play numerous characters, plus sing and dance throughout the performance. From the back of the theater, beyond the ghost light the troupe appears to rise out of literal ash to tell their stories and from there the action is non-stop, masterfully pivoting between roles. Jeff Barg brings exuberant warmth to Lemml, Indecent’s narrator who also serves as stage manager for “God of Vengeance”. Through Lemml it seems we hear a few of the playwright’s thoughts as well. Aimee Theresa’s (Halina) endearing theatrical artistry grants depth to her roles, and her sublime rendering of the experienced working girl plays well against Sofie Rose Seymour’s (Chana) well defined curious innocence as the younger lesbian lover. Seymour masters her other characters seamlessly as well. Danny Donnelly (Avram) imbues each characters with his innate kineticism and flair. Harley Diamond (Otto) is a true gem on the stage, giving spark to each portrayal. Eric Rupp (Mendel) and Susan Bolt (Vera) display excellent timing and verve to complete this solid ensemble.
Sean McDermott’s set design and David Sibley’s lighting which focuses on stage action, fuse together to create an atmosphere of traveling along throughout time with the characters as the play unfolds. Exits and entrances are swift and seamless (shout out to Desiree Riccardelli), and Emily Engel's choreography is delightful. The production's super special effects are a must see - a bit of Broadway right here at home...
Featured in the photo, left to right are Danny Donnelly as Avram, Aimee Theresa as Halina, Harley Diamond as Otto, Susan Bolt as Vera, Eric Rupp as Mendel and Sofie Rose Seymour as Chana.
Original Broadway Production Conceived and Directed by Rebecca Taichman
Score and Original Music by Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva
Directed by Thomas Robert-Irvin
January 6 – 21 – Thursday performances at 7:30 PM Friday & Saturday performances are at 8:00 PM Tickets can be purchased by visiting the box office, by calling 610-328-4271 or online at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/117
Players Club of Swarthmore (PCS), 614 Fairview Rd., Swarthmore, PA 190181