Over the last few weeks, a large number of my friends have seen the play with music Indecent at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and have raved about the show. They’ve been telling me to see it. Unfortunately, my season tickets were the penultimate Friday of the run (yet another reason we’re not renewing — the Ahmanson isn’t as friendly as the Pantages on adjusting those things or having seats available), and we just hadn’t seen it yet.
We saw it Friday night, and I’m at a loss for words.
I was so caught up in this story, and how it was told, and the beauty of it. I was so caught up in the Yiddish theatre, and the current resurgence of Yiddish in our society (which our daughter will help, in no small part). I was so caught up in the sadness of the story, the sadness of the times, the sadness of the circumstances. And I was so caught up in the inspiration that led to the return of this show to the stage that … well, I’m at a loss for words. I have nothing to compare this to. All I can say is: If you can make it for the last week at the Ahmanson, do so. If this comes to your town, go see it. It is as simple as that.
Indecent tells the story of the play God of Vengence, written by Scholem Asch around 1907. The play was notorious for featuring a lesbian kiss, prostitutes, a brothel, and an implied desecration of the Torah. The Yiddish theatre at the time though the play might be seen as antisemitic for portraying Jews in a less-than-positive light. But Asch persevered and got the play produced: first touring around Eastern and the Western Europe, and finally, the troupe came to America. In America the play was find as long as it was running in smaller off-Broadway theatres. But when it came to Broadway, American Jews protested the obscenity they thought was there, and had the actors arrested on obscenity charges on opening night.
The remainder of the play picks up the story from there. It shows the PTSD that Asch felt after seeing what was happening to Jews in Europe in the 1930s. It shows the trial, and the results. It shows the troupe returning to perform the play in Europe, and even performing the play in the Warsaw ghetto. And it shows what invariably happened to the troupe. Lastly, it shows the attempts to revive the play in the 1950s.
All of this is done with a rotating troupe of actors and musicians playing all sorts of different characters, from the actors, to the authors, to the Yiddish intelligentsia of the time. It is supported by English and Yiddish subtitles, often indicating when characters would be speaking in Yiddish or English. It made numerous use of “A blink in time” to move time forward.
Was there a protagonist who was changed by this story? Arguably, Asch. Arguably, Lemmi, the stage manager. But arguably the entire troupe was changed in various ways because of the play.
Was there a point being made by this presentation and history lesson? Perhaps that the ideas we think are new really aren’t. Perhaps that we’ve attempted to censor theatre, but truth will out. Perhaps that nowhere is safe from the scourge of antisemitism, and perhaps the goyim only tolerate the Jewish world when we are acting safe and non-threatening. But threaten their Christian order and values, and face the consequences. Indeed, a survey out this week show that 20% of Americas still think it is acceptable to not serve Jews. Twenty percent! Is the antisemitism that Asch and his troupe faced gone from the world? Have we really learned anything?
This particular play came about when the playwright, Paula Vogel was at Cornell, and in the process of coming out, and her professor pointed her to the play. Twenty years later, the director Rebecca Taichman (FB) was at Yale, reading God of Vengence, when she gets the idea to stage the 1923 obscenity trial as her directing thesis. The met, the ideas merged, and we have what we have on stage.
Unsurprisingly, given her history with this play, the direction by Rebecca Taichman (FB) was outstanding. Actors moved between characters and characterizations seemlessly, reactions seemed believable, and it just drew your attention. Choreography was by David Dorfman (⭐FB).
Given the nature of this show, particular actors (and the musicians, for the musicians also acted) are difficult to single out as the entire ensemble was strong. The acting team consisted of: Richard Topol (FB) Lemmi, the Stage Manager; Elizabeth A. Davis (⭐FB) Actor; Joby Earle (⭐FB; FB) Actor; Harry Groener (⭐FB) Actor; Mimi Lieber (⭐FB; FB) Actor; Steven Rattazzi Actor; Adina Verson (FB) Actor; Matt Darriau (⭐FB; FB) Musician: (Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Tin Whistle); Patrick Farrell Musician: (Accordion, Baritone Ukulele, Percussion); and Lisa Gutkin (⭐FB) Musician: (Violin, Mandolin, Percussion).
Understudies were: Ben Cherry (FB) for Mr.(s) Earle, Groener, Rattazzi, Topol; Lisa Ermel (FB) for Ms.(s) Davis, Verson; Valerie Perri (FB) for Ms. Lieber; Leo Chelyapov (FB) for Mr. Darriau; Janice Mautner Markham (FB) for Ms. Gutkin; and Isaac Schankler (FB) for Mr. Farrell.
Robert Payne was the Orchestra Contractor. The show featured a score and original music by Lisa Gutkin (⭐FB) and Aaron Halva (FB). Lisa Gutkin (⭐FB) was music supervisor.
Turning to the production and creative side: Riccardo Hernandez‘s scenic design was relatively simple: a platform some chairs, tables, and other accouterments of a travelling troupe. It was augmented to some extent by the projection design of Tal Yarden (FB), which provided context for the scene, as well as Yiddish (or Yiddish translateration) subtitles. Also supporting was Emily Rebholz (FB)’s costume design and J. Jared Janas and Dave Bova זיל (⭐FB)’s hair and wig design. Christopher Akerlind‘s lighting was effective on establishing the mood, Matt Hubbs sound design blended into the background. Other production credits: Rick Sordelet (FB) Fight Direction; Joby Earle (⭐FB; FB) Fight Captain; Ashley Brooke Monroe (FB) Asst. Director; Sara Gibbons (FB) Assoc. Choreographer; Adina Verson (FB) Dance Captain; Tara Rubin (⭐FB) Original Casting; Alaine Alldaffer Boston Casting; Michael Donovan CSA Los Angeles Casting; Amanda Spooner (FB) Production Stage Manager; Emily F. McMullen (FB) Stage Manager.
Indecent continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through July 7. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson box office. It does not appear to be on Goldstar, but does appear to be on TodayTix. Go see it.
Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2018-2019 season], and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.
The the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) is almost over. If you are unfamilar with Fringe, there are around 380 shows taking place over the month of June, mostly in the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd between 1 bl W of La Brea to 1 bl E of Vine, but all generally in Hollywood. On a first pass, there were lots I was interested in, 30 I could fit on a calendar, but even less that I could afford. Here is my current Fringe schedule as of the date of this writeup. [Here’s my post with all shows of interest — which also shows my most current HFF19 schedule. Note: unlike my normal policy, offers of comps or discounts are entertained, but I have to be able to work them into the schedule with the limitations noted in my HFF19 post]:
Key: ⊕: Non-Fringe Show/Event; °: Producer/Publicist Arranged Comp or Discount
As for July, it is already filling up. The first weekend of the month is still open. The second weekend brings An Intimate Evening with Kristen Chenowith at,The Hollywood Bowl (FB). The third weekend of July brings Miss Saigon at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), followed by A Comedy of Errors from Shakespeare by the Sea (FB)/Little Fish Theatre(FB). The last weekend of July brings West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). August ends with Mother Road and As You Like It at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB). In between those points, August is mostly open.
As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!