Theatre Review: INDECENT at Arden Theatre Company

God of Vengeance, Sholem Asch’s infamous Yiddish drama breathes in new life in Paula Vogel’s retelling of the 1923 trial and production of Asch’s early work. From top of show, audience members are invited to the engage with Indecent’s players. We meet Lemml, a smaller, charming stage manager who acts as our guide through the layers of Ms. Vogel’s brilliant play. Lemml, nicely played by Doug Hara, introduces us to the players and we are instantly guided into the play within the play. “I can’t remember how it ends…” he says, “But I remember how it begins.”

Indecent is a masterpiece. It is a tragedy. Director Rebecca Wright invites us to celebrate the Jewish culture through riveting choreography (Annie Wilson), fight choreography (Eli Lynn), live music played by wildly talented actor-musicians (Jason Gresl on Clarinet, Rachel Massey on Violin, Sarah Statler on Accordian, Ryan Touhey as Music Director), and fluid transitions complimented by compelling stage pictures. In your first hour as an audience member, you relate to the players: their thirst for ambition, need for expression, and wanting to find love in one another and in their audience. Wright creates a world where the Jewish people are celebrated and they are taking risks with their art. In 2019, we support them and we engage with their bravery.

Except, it’s not about theatre or actors. You can’t relate. “The end” that Lemml cannot remember is that of an unimaginable reality. Indecent is a beautifully and carefully constructed illumination of the slow and sharp rise of Antisemitism in Germany and the lands of their allies. The play invites you to befriend these characters (loosely based on real individuals) and hope for their futures, imagine their lives and their future children. Wright paints their reality, their unbelievable tragedy, and you mourn them as you would an old friend.

The pathos of the production is the product of fantastic acting. The company includes: Doug Hara as Lemml (Again, brilliant), Michaela Schuchman as Chana, Jaime Mesada as Avram, Leah Walton as Halina, Ross Beschler as Mendel, Mary Elizabeth Scallen as Vera, and David Ingram as Otto. Though each actor has essentially one role as their focal role”, they each played countless additional characters (other actors, rabbis, police). The change in character consisted of small costume pieces such as shaws, hats, jackets, etc. that were switched out on stage before our eyes. While the choice to differentiate characters using small pieces, undoubtedly to keep the pace of the story flowing, it did get confusing at times to keep track of who was playing whom. Otherwise, Nikki Delhomme’s costume designs were both appropriate and stunning. In addition to changing characters physically, the actors learned and perfected various accents with Matthew Hultgren as coach.

The technical aspects of this production were impressive. Lighting Design (Maria Shaplan) was impeccable. Her final motif of Rifkele and Manke’s famous rain scene (two characters in GOD OF VENGEANCE, the play within the play) was branded in my eyelids until I got home. Sound Design (Elizabeth Atkinson) and Video Design (Jorge Cousineau) were key in keeping this piece moving and accessible for their modern audience.

I left this playing feeling moved, educated, and inspired. I was blown away by not only the great work of ten actors/actor-musicians, but an army of incredible technical collaborators. I mean, they made it rain on stage! Literally!

Do you go see it? Please do. You won’t be sorry.

Indecent will run at the Arden Theatre Company on their mainstage until June 23.

Ensemble in Arden Theatre Company’s Indecent. Photo by Ashley Smith, Wide Eyed Studios.

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