Theater Review: INDECENT, By Paula Vogel

Translated by Joshua Sobol Directed by Yair Sherman Cameri theater, November 21

SHMUEL VILOJZNY and Dana Meinart in ‘Indecent (photo credit: KFIR BOLOTIN)
SHMUEL VILOJZNY and Dana Meinart in ‘Indecent
(photo credit: KFIR BOLOTIN)
Sholem Asch’s 1923 blistering God of Vengeance, the story of a Jewish brothel owner hoisted with his own petard when his virgin daughter forms an intimate friendship with one of his whores, is playing on Broadway. Police halt the show, arrest the cast and producer who are then tried and convicted of obscenity, a conviction later overturned on appeal.
Vogel’s Indecent, the story of the play and its people preceding and following that trial, premiered in 2015 at Yale Repertory theater, going on to win acclaim wherever it ran.
The very adept nine-member cast – six actors, three musicians – play multiple characters in a multi-scene drama that goes from the first reading of the play in 1906 to its partial performance in the Lodz ghetto in 1941. It is set in a black box, Nadav Barnea’s lighting illuminating only the actors, against Nimrod Zin’s often enigmatic – places, people, events barely remembered – ever-moving, rear-screened kaleidoscope of images whereon places and dates are also projected in Hebrew (to keep us straight on where and when we are).
Indecent also has comedian Shmuel Vilojzny as Lemml/Lou. Lemml is the narrator, the emcee, the play’s stage manager as it moves from triumph to triumph all over Europe prior to falling flat on its face in the Land of the Free.
With never even a hint of his usual schtick, Vilojzny plays Lemml with a gentle, courageous, laced-with-flashes-of-levity grace that humanizes and gives this fractured (though undeniably skillful) docu-drama a lot of whatever depth it has. The rest of that comes from singer/actor/cellist Eli Gorenstein, who plays all the Elderly Men with his usual understated authority. Dudu Niv also shines in his many versions of adult men – especially as crass Broadway producer Weinberger and, together with Esti Koussevitzky, in a poker-faced rendition of “Ain’t We Got Fun.”
And yet there is the inescapable feeling that the actors are rushing – “Let’s get this over with” – and despite the introduction of quite a few scenes from God of Vengeance, if you don’t know the play, Indecent will lose you.
And finally why bring it to us? Indecent tries to explain Jews and being Jewish to gentiles. We know all that. We’ve lived it.