Last night, I was treated to a beautiful performance of Indecent on Broadway. I went in knowing merely the basis of the story, and what I witnessed on that stage took my breath away. It revolves around Sholem Asch's controversial Yiddish play God of Vengeance and its long journey across many European theatres to finally reach Broadway. We follow Lemml, the stage manager (played by Richard Topol), and his troupe of actors each playing many different roles through this road. He tells us that every night, he and his company give the same story to audiences. Be that as it may, he never remembers how the story ends. Back in 1923 at the Apollo Theater, the audience responded unenthusiastically to the depiction of lesbian love, as well as the idea of a Jewish troupe of thespians performing a show. The reaction to the story within a story in 2017 at the Cort Theater could not have been more distinctive. While Indecent was not a religious-based show, it was colored with vignettes of Anti-Semitism as it would have been 100 years ago in America. The heartbreak of being discriminated against was present throughout the entire hour and 45 minutes, and it permeated to the audience no matter what their age or religion happened to be. The implementation of a small company of actors where everyone plays multiple roles emphasizes how the 20th century Yiddish theatrical community had to come up with creative ways to be able to put their shows on in an American setting. I am confident in my opinion that every single performer on that stage gave what I believe to be a perfect depiction of mixed joy and heartache in the time and place they were portraying. I'm not the kind of person who is in touch with religion, but I definitely felt my Jewish heritage being displayed right in front of me in a tangible way.
The love between Rifkele and Manke in God of Vengeance is so raw and real within our society today. Even as someone in a heterosexual relationship, I recognized the love between the two women and found it to be even truer than many of the manifestations of love I have witnessed. Katrina Lenk and Adina Verson captured my attention from the moment they first performed the infamous rain scene. I was struck with emotion when their love was questioned in the show, and I knew that it was cognizant of the reactions during the actual first reading of Sholem Asch's work. Thankfully, many advances have been made in the view of non-heteronormative love from Sholem Asch's time. Even though Asch himself found lesbianism to be completely normal within his society, it goes without saying that this view was not widely shared. When the troupe and producer were arrested for "obscenity," I had to wonder why the stage manager and playwright weren't roped in, as well. They were certainly willing to join their company in jail, because that's how close-knit Yiddish communities were in the 20th century. The life of this play didn't end after the arrest, however. Lemml decides to move back to Poland after he is ridiculed for the way he speaks in America, and there, he still attempts to make this play triumphant. No 1920s-based show with Jewish heritage displayed would be complete without some mention of the Holocaust. The way they integrated this harrowing aspect of history, as well as all of the other transitions from one moment to another, was seamless and jarring. You could feel the silence across the whole theatre from wherever you were sitting from this moment on through the end.
The show was rife with metaphors and symbols to depict what was truly going on at this time from the very beginning. The audience, and the actors within the show, didn't realize what these symbols would come to mean by the end of the play. The actors all have dust in their hands at the beginning of the performance, which my family believed to be representative of the slums and hard labor the Yiddish community was subjected to in the "old country". At the end of the show, however, this dust takes on an entirely new meaning that left me paralyzed in my seat. I highly recommend this show to anyone who appreciates a good sob story that is also historically accurate. The show has extended its run through August 6th, so you have plenty of time to get your tickets!
Binghamton University student who loves groundbreaking displays of contemporary theatre (and a bunch of other stuff).