Indecent at the Guthrie Theater
This past winter I attended a production of Blithe Spirit at the Guthrie. My best gal pal, Sofie, was in town visiting from New York and saw in her program that the Guthrie was producing Indecent by Paula Vogel in 2018. I remember how excited she was not only that the play was being produced but that I would have the chance to see it. After seeing how excited she was, and she hadn't even seen it personally in NYC, I knew I had to experience it for myself.
Indecent is inspired by the Yiddish playwright, Sholem Asch and his widely produced, yet ultimately censored, 1906 play The God of Vengeance. The God of Vengeance is the story of a Jewish brothel owner who lives with his wife, a former prostitute who used to work for him, and their overprotected daughter who has a reputation of being the purest of girls. The family lives above the father's brothel and soon his daughter falls in love with one of the girls downstairs.
However Indecent is an emotional and captivating, multilayered script about behind the curtain an The God of Vengeance came to be and ultimately how it was censored. It tells the story of what the acting troupe had to go through to have success on Broadway ultimately leading to their arrest after their debut. Even two days after seeing this script, I'm still trying to grasp how to put into words, what I saw. What I experienced. Lately, I've been seeing a lot of powerful plays that leave me utterly speechless. I said it in my last review of The Humans but I feel as if my writing isn't up to par with the pure genius that is this play. Stella Adler once said "The theatre was created to tell people the truth about life and the social situation" and that quote perfectly captures what this play is and was.
As you can probably tell already, I was in awe. I absolutely loved this production. I'll be honest. I was very branded as an "only musical theatre type guy." But this production reawakened my love for plays. It was technically "a play with music" Right away, upon walking into the theatre I had already begun analyzing the stage through the huge broken down theatre that was built on the Wurtele Thrust Stage. This play-within-a-play literally has...a theater-within-a-theater and it's lovely. You can even see a time-lapse video of it here. What I loved about the set, designed by Arnulfo Maldonado, was how it complimented every aspect of the production. Cast members hauntingly sat in the abandoned seating as audience member took their seats. Piles of abandoned suitcases, pictures and other items scattered across the edge and back of house. This, at least to me, made so much sense after the production as it was a tribute and reminder to those who lost everything during the Holocaust, a subtle plot point towards the end of the production.
Projections were cast on the different pieces of the set by projection designer, Alex Basco Koch. The projections serve multiple purposes including letting the audience know when time has passed or what language the cast is speaking at that moment (usually Yiddish or English). This was an amazing detail because it was fascinating to see this brilliant cast flip on a dime. It truly shows how talented they are as they speak perfect English through the whole production, symbolizing the character's native Yiddish language, but then broken English at times symbolizing them trying to speak English. It's hard to write out but trust me, it was fantastic. The projections almost serve as stage directions for the audience, something I've never seen done before. Whenever the cast actually did speak in Yiddish (mostly when they sang), the English translations would flash across the screen while the actual Yiddish writing shined on the floor.
The cast was six actors with three musicians (who almost served as actors in the show as well). The cast served as multiple roles and I thought they all did a superb job in differentiating the difference between each character. They were passionate and respectful while portraying these people. Sally Wingert, always a Twin Cities favorite, makes an appearance in this production as well and adds the perfect amount of zing and spice to each role. She kept me from absolutely sobbing through the entire production with her well timed comedic moments. Ben Cherry (below) plays Lemml, one of the leading characters and leading people who kept The God of Vengeance playing.
Cherry was also in the original Broadway production and now making his Guthrie Debut. What a production to debut your talent to the Twin Cities. He was absolutely incredible. Whether it was making the audience laugh as he tried to learn English or making us cry (I cried a lot...) through his pleas and desperation to continue his work, I was completely drawn in. Never once did he let the audience look away from the stage.
Paula Vogel, the playwright of this marvelous production, should be very proud. The dialogue and relationship she's created with another playwrights work is truly a masterpiece that should be forever taught in theater classes around the world. Indecent is one of the most important pieces of theater I've ever seen in my life time and I mean that 100%. It's powerful and a story that everyone should know. It's the epitome example of how art can start a revolution, can change lives and create change. Indecent is story-telling at it's finest. I honestly can't say more great things about it. I fully intend on seeing it again before it leaves.
Indecent plays at the Guthrie Theater through March 24th in the Wurtele Thrust Stage. Ticket and more information can be found here.
*Photo Credit to Dan Norman and provided by Guthrie Theater.