Tag Archives: Paula Vogel

“Indecent” – A Compelling Drama about a Ground-breaking Play

indecent topol and lenk rosegg

Center: Richard Topol and Katrina Lenk. Photo by Carol Rosegg

By Karen Isaacs

“Indecent,” the new play by Paula Vogel blends music, dance, song, scenes from the famous Yiddish play “The God of Vengeance” and the history of the play so seamlessly that you are entranced.

It weaves these multiple stories plus episodes from the life of its author Sholem Asch to create a multi-dimensional piece performed by a true ensemble. Six actors are assigned multiple roles based on age — the two older play an older characters, the 40ish actors play characters of that age and the younger performers play the younger characters. Yet you never are confused about who is playing which character.

With the exception of Richard Topol who plays the stage manager/narrator (as well as other characters), the program simply lists them as “actor”.

The piece was directed by Vogel and Rebecca Taichman who has been with the project since its beginning. It had its world premiere at Yale Rep in 2015 and won numerous awards from the Connecticut Critics Circle. It then played off-Broadway before now making it to the Great White Way.

During its travel, the same cast has remained with it as well as the same production team and musicians.

The Broadway production is stronger than the one I saw at Yale. Yet it retains the essence of the story.

For most theatr-goers, the incidents which the play recounts will not be familiar.  It involves the novelist/playwright Sholem Asch who wrote initially in Yiddish and his play The God of Vengeance.

This play delves deeper than just the history of the production of this work and its author.  It raises an issue that every minority who is looked down upon by mainstream society faces: Should the less-than-admirable aspects of our group be revealed for those who already denigrate us?

Indecent covers the period from the play’s writing and first reading in a Warsaw literary salon in 1907 through WWII and even beyond.

At that time, in what was called the Jewish Enlightenment, many Eastern European Jews were promoting literature written in Yiddish.  But many of those who promoted this also wanted positive portrayals of the Jews living in Eastern Europe.

At the first reading, God of Vengeance was controversial; the young Asch writes a play that includes a Jewish owned brothel, a love affair between the owner’s daughter and one of the prostitutes, and the “shocking” treatment of a Jewish scroll.  It showed a side of Jewish life which many did not want told.

The men start reading the play but are soon horrified. The play tells the story of a Jewish man who runs a brothel, his wife is one of his former prostitutes and he has a virginal daughter. But the daughter falls in love with one of the prostitutes to her father’s horror.

Yet the play was produced in Berlin with the great actor Rudolph Schildkraut as the father, St. Petersburg, Moscow and other locations throughout Europe in both Yiddish and native languages.  In New York City’s lower east side, the play had various successful productions for more than 15 years.

Asch and some of the performers in the actors (including Schildkraut) emigrated to the US and in 1923, the Provincetown Playhouse in New York (known for producing the works of Eugene O’Neill) produced an English production.

It is here that the story of The God of Vengeance turns.  The producer wants to bring it to Broadway, but feels the story must be revised to fit the up-town audience; Asch lets the producer do it, but never reads the changes. His English was very limited and he had turned his attention to writing novels. Many felt the new version makes the play even more controversial; instead of a love story between the prostitute and the daughter, the prostitute is simply trying to recruit the daughter the life.  A Rabbi files an obscenity complaint and the entire cast, producers and theater owner are all arrested and convicted of indecency. (The conviction is later overturned).

Indecent 3

Photo by Carol Rosegg

During the course of the 100 minute play, a very talented cast of six plays a variety of roles.

Max Gordon Moore portrays Asch as a man of conviction though flawed.  He admits he agreed to the cuts for the Broadway production without reading them and refuses to testify at the company’s criminal trial.   Katrina Link is luminous as the prostitute Manke who falls in love with the daughter – on stage and with the actress in real life.  Her commitment to the work is clear.  Adina Verson plays not only Asch’s wife but also Rifkele, the daughter.  Tom Nellis plays I.L. Peretz, the salon host but also the actor Rudolph Schildkraut with elegance and grace.  Mimi Lieber plays the mother in Asch’s play and Steve Rattazzi plays the producer, the Rabbi and others.

Richard Topol serves as both the stage manager and the defender of the piece.  His portrayal is heart-breaking as the young man from the provinces who first hears the play read and is totally transformed by it and is the stage manager/defender during its controversial production.

The movement choreographed by David Dorfman adds an elegant touch, especially the very graceful Tom Nellis.

The play begins as if the characters have been packed away for years, perhaps even buried and it moves among the various scenes with props pulled from old-fashioned suitcases.

Taichman as director has a sure hand at managing the multiple scene changes and characters in the play.  She is aided by her production team – lighting designer Christopher Akerlind, costume designer Emily Rebholz, sound designer Matt Hubs and scenic designer Riccardo Hernandez.

Three fine musicians – Lisa Gutkin, Aaron Halva (both of whom composed the music) and Travis W. Hendrix – provide an accompaniment that is reminiscent of klezmer music.

Indecent is a fascinating play that any theater lover should see. It explores a piece of theater history as well as raising challenging questions about the role of literature for minority populations.

It is at the Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St. For tickets visit Telecharge.

indecent = max moore richard topol

Max Gordon Moore and Richard Topol. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

News from Connecticut Theaters and NYC

Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater

By Karen Isaacs

King Arthur and the Holy Grail: Monty Python’s famous movie about this was turned into a terrific musical, Spamalot that won numerous awards. Now the Connecticut Rep on the UConn campus is presenting it from Thursday, April 21 to Sunday, May 1.  Rickard Kline will play King Arthur; he was at CRT in The Sunshine Boys and played the Wizard in the national tour of Wicked.  He will be joined by Mariand Torres as the Lady of the Lake. She has played Elphaba in the same tour of Wicked.  For tickets, visit crt.uconn.edu or call 860-486-2113.

World Premiere: Long Wharf is presenting the world premiere of Lewiston through Sunday, May 1, directed by former associate artistic director Eric Ting.  According to the press materials, Lewiston is about “Alice and Connor [who] sit by their roadside stand selling cheap fireworks while developers swallow the land around them. Promised a condo in the new development, their future is secure. Enter Marnie, Alice’s long lost granddaughter, proposing to buy the land to save her family legacy. Marnie and Alice will become reacquainted with each other’s deeply held secrets, uncertain pasts, and hopeful futures.”  For tickets visit www.longwharf.org or call 203-787- 4282.

Favorite Songs: If “Take Me Home, Country Roads” or “Rocky Mountain High” are among your favorite songs, you will want to see the east coast premiere of the new musical Back Home Again: On the Road with John Denver at Ivoryton Playhouse. It runs through Sunday, April 24.

David M. Lufken and Katie Deal star; they have been with the show since its original production at the Milwaukee Rep. Lufken created the show Woody Sez about Woody Guthrie which had a successful run at TheaterWorks.  You can expect to learn lots about Denver as well as to hear many of his songs. For tickets visit ivorytonplayhouse.org or call 860-767-7318.

 News from the Shubert: New Haven’s Shubert Theater will host a return engagement of Jersey Boys, Tuesday, May 3 to Sunday, May 8.  For tickets to Jersey Boys or information on subscriptions to the Broadway series visit Shubert.com or call 203-562-5666.

Matilda: Hartford’s Bushnell Theater is hosting the national touring production of the musical Matilda, based on the Roald Dahl book and the film. It runs Tuesday, April 26 to Sunday, May 1.  For tickets visit bushnell.org.

New Haven in New York: In the last weeks, several shows that New Haven area audiences saw have opened on and off-Broadway. Eclipsed by Daniel Gurira has opened on Broadway starring Lupita Nyongo’o, who was a Yale Drama student and understudy when it had its premiere at the Yale Rep. She has since won an Oscar.  Guiria’s Familiar¸ which opened at the Yale Rep in February 2015 has opened off-Broadway.  Opening soon is Indecent by Paula Vogel. It ran last fall at the Yale Rep and will feature the Yale cast.

The Last Five Years:  MTC (Music Theater of Connecticut) is closing its season with the award winning musical The Last Five Years which features book, music and lyrics by the Tony winning Jason Robert Brown. The show tells the story of a relationship; but the man tells the story from beginning to end while the woman tells the story from the end back to the first meeting. Nicolas Dromard who has appeared on Broadway in Jersey Boys and Jennifer Malenk who has appeared in Into the Woods star.  The show runs to Sunday, April 24. For tickets call 203-454-3883 or visit musictheatreofct.com.                                                      

Anastasia: Excitement is building about the world premiere of Anastasia at Hartford Stage beginning Thursday, May 12.  The last musical to premiere there, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, went on to win the Tony for best musical and a Tony for the director Darko Tresnjak, Hartford’s artistic director.  Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty who wrote the music for the animated film, are writing new music for the show.  In an interview with the Manchester (CT) Journal Inquirer, Tresnjak said that 16 new numbers have been written for the show; only six from the original film are in the score. For tickets visit hartfordstage.org.

This Summer: Sharon Playhouse, in the northwest corner of Connecticut is presenting five shows this summer.  The season begins with Gypsy from June 16-July 3, followed by the Tony-winning musical Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from July 21-31. Then is Quartet, a play about elderly opera-singers from Aug. 18 to 28. On stage two, the Playhouse will present a new musical Judge Jackie: Disorder in the Court from July 7-17 and the long-running off-Broadway hit, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change from Aug. 4-14.  For information or tickets visit sharonplayhouse.org. The box office, 860-364-7469 x100 opens Friday, April 15.

New Plays: Westport Country Playhouse has launched an initiative to develop new plays and musicals through workshops and readings. Two works will be receiving a workshop and later a staged reading before an audience. The two works are a new play, Out of the Mouths of Babes by Israel Horovitz (in partnership with New York’s Cherry Lane Theatre) and a new musical The Rivals based on the classic comedy by Sheridan.

 New York Notes: The musical comedy The Robber Bridegroom is being revived by Roundabout Theater at its off-Broadway Laura Pels theater. Steven Pasquale is starring.  It is billed as a “raucous, hilarious, sexy theatrical gem with an irresistibly catch bluegrass score.” It runs through Sunday, May 29. For tickets visit roundaboutTheatre.org. Marin Mazzie will take over the role of Anna in the Lincoln Center revival of The King and I. She succeeds Kelli O’Hara. Side Show, a musical Stephen Sondheim has been working on for years under various titles is getting a production the Signature Theater in Arlington, Virginia.  It often present new works that eventually make it to New York. Last summer a new musical about James Cagney got a brief run off-Broadway.  Most people don’t know that Cagney started as a song and dance man. Now Cagney is getting a full off-Broadway production with an opening set for Sunday, April 3.For tickets visit Telechaerge.com.

New York Plans for Next Season: A musical version of Sponge Bob is aiming for Broadway next season. It will preview in Chicago beginning June 7. Derek Hough of Dancing with the Stars will star on Broadway next season in Singin’ in the Rain. He will, of course, play the Gene Kelly role. The show will begin in Paris as the successful An American in Paris musical did. Also next season is a revival of William Finn and James Lapine’s musical Falsettos. It will begin previews on Sept. 29.

‘Indecent’ at Yale Is Powerful, Fascinating

Photo by Carol Rosegg

Photo by Carol Rosegg

By Karen Isaacs

 Connecticut theaters present many world premieres; some can easily be recognized as major works – such as the premiers of Athol Fugard’s Master Harold and the Boys, or August Wilson’s Fences, among others (both at Yale);  others may reveal themselves as deeply flawed.  Then there are those that are “almost-there” – works that need some tweaking or minor work to catapult them to the next level.

Indecent written by Paula Vogel and created by Vogel and director Rebecca Taichman is in the latter group – a very good, moving play that still needs some work.  The Yale production, in association with the La Jolla Playhouse runs through Saturday, Oct. 24.

Mimi Lieber, Tom Nelis, and Adina Verson Photo by Carol Rosegg

Mimi Lieber, Tom Nelis, and Adina Verson Photo by Carol Rosegg

For most theater-goers, the incidents which the play recounts will not be familiar.  It involves the novelist/playwright Sholem Asch who wrote initially in Yiddish and his play The God of Vengeance.

 This play delves deeper than just the history of the production of this work and its author.  It raises an issue that every minority who is looked down upon by mainstream society faces: Should the less-than-admirable aspects of our group be revealed for those who already denigrate us?

Indecent covers the period from the play’s writing and first reading in a Warsaw literary salon in 1907 through WWII and even beyond.

At that time, in what was called the Jewish Enlightenment, many Eastern European Jews were promoting literature written in Yiddish.  But many of those who promoted this also wanted positive portrayals of the Jews living in Eastern Europe.

At the first reading, God of Vengeance was controversial; the young Asch writes a play that includes a Jewish owned brothel, a love affair between the owner’s daughter and one of the prostitutes, and the “shocking” treatment of a Jewish scroll.  It showed a side of Jewish life which many did not want told.

Yet the play was produced in Berlin, St. Petersburg, Moscow and other locations throughout Europe in both Yiddish and native languages.  In New York City’s lower east side, the play had various successful productions for more than 15 years.

Asch and some of the performers in the actors emigrated to the US and in 1923, the Provincetown Playhouse in New York (known for producing the works of Eugene O’Neill) produced an English production with Rudolph Schildkraut playing the brothel owner.

Adina Verson and Katrina Lenk Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Adina Verson and Katrina Lenk Photo by Carol Rosegg.

It is here that the story of The God of Vengeance turns.  The producer wants to bring it to Broadway, but feels the story must be cut to fit the up-town audience, but many felt the new version makes the play even more controversial.  A Rabbi files an obscenity complaint and the entire cast, producers and theater owner are all arrested and convicted of indecency. (The conviction is later overturned).

Then we see how the play survives and how Asch – who concentrates on novels – moves into other controversial subjects including a trilogy on the New Testament.

During the course of the 100 minute play, a very talented cast of six plays a variety of roles.

Max Gordon Moore portrays Asch as a man of conviction though flawed.  He admits he agreed to the cuts for the Broadway production without reading them and refuses to testify at the company’s criminal trial.   Katrina Link is luminous as the prostitute Manke who falls in love with the daughter – on stage and with the actress in real life.  Her commitment to the work is clear.  Adina Verson plays not only Asch’s wife but also Rifkele, the daughter.  Tom Nellis plays I.L. Peretz, the salon host but also the actor Rudolph Schildkraut with elegance and grace.  Mimi Lieber plays the mother in Asch’s play and Steve Rattazzi plays the producer, the Rabbi and others.

Richard Topol serves as both the stage manager and the defender of the piece.  His portrayal is heart-breaking as the young man from the provinces who first hears the play read and is totally transformed by it and is the stage manager/defender during its controversial production.

The movement choreographed by David Dorfman adds an elegant touch, especially the very graceful Tom Nellis.

Steven Rattazzi, Max Gordon Moore, and Tom Nelis Photo by Carol Rosegg,

Steven Rattazzi, Max Gordon Moore, and Tom Nelis Photo by Carol Rosegg,

The play begins as if the characters have been packed away for years, perhaps even buried and it moves among the various scenes with props pulled from old-fashioned suitcases.

Taichman as director has a sure hand at managing the multiple scene changes and characters in the play.  She is aided by her production team – lighting designer Christopher Akerlind, costume designer Emily Rebholz, sound designer Matt Hubs and scenic designer Riccardo Hernandez.

Three fine musicians – Lisa Gutkin, Aaron Halva (both of whom composed the music) and Travis W. Hendrix – provide an accompaniment that is reminiscent of klezmer music.

Yet, Indecent is not a perfect play.  Some scenes go on too long. The multiple repetitions of the final scene of God of Vengeance which is melodramatic to begin with began to generate audience laughter. We keep hearing about “the rain scene” between Rifkele and Manke as being the equivalent of the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet so often that by the time we see parts of it, it cannot live up to the hype. Another scene near the end of the play with a list of Broadway musicals and plays projected does not tie in to the rest of the play. It seems like a heavy-handed attempt at commentary that is not effective and not necessary.

Indecent is a new play worth seeing not only because you will learn about a fascinating event in theatrical history, but because of the fine acting and thought provoking ideas.

It is at Yale Rep’s University Theater, 222 York St., New Haven, through Saturday, Oct. 24.  For tickets contact yalerep@yale.edu or call 203-432-1234.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com

Max Gordon Moore, Adina Verson, Richard Topol, Katrina Lenk, and Tom Nelis Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Max Gordon Moore, Adina Verson, Richard Topol, Katrina Lenk, and Tom Nelis Photo by Carol Rosegg.

“Broken Glass,” “Laramie Project,” “Third,” and More on the Boards in Connecticut Now

Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater

By Karen Isaacs

Important Centennial: Arthur Miller, one of America’s most important playwrights and Connecticut resident, was born 100 years ago.  Westport Country Playhouse is marking his centennial with a production of Broken Glass to Oct, 24.  It is directed by Artistic Director Mark Lamos.  Lamos said, “In its swift-moving, almost thriller-like action, Miller audaciously entwines a crippled marriage, in which the wife is herself mysteriously crippled in reaction to news of Nazi atrocities against German Jews, mirrored by a world on the verge of collapse.” For tickets visit westportplayhouse.org or call 888-927-7529.

At the Shubert: It’s still a big hit on Broadway but area residents can see the national touring production of The Book of Mormon at the Shubert Theater, New Haven from Oct. 13 to Oct. 18. Tickets are available at Shubert.com or 203-562-5666.  If you feel lucky, you can participate in a lottery that will offer 20 tickets for each performance at $25 each.  You must enter at the box office beginning two and a-half hours prior to the performance.  A maximum of two tickets per winner.

World Premier: Yale Rep is presenting, in conjunction with La Jolla Playhouse, the world premiere of Paula Vogel’s Indecent,  to  Oct. 24.  The play is written by Vogel and created by Vogel and Rebecca Taichman who directs. It is described as a “new play with music inspired by the true events surrounding the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance—a play seen by some as a seminal work of Jewish culture, and by others as an act of traitorous libel. Indecent charts the history of an incendiary drama and the path of the artists who risked their careers and lives to perform it.”  For tickets visit yalerep.org or call 203-432-1234.

Remembering:  In 1998 in Wyoming, Matthew Shepherd, a gay teenager, was brutally killed.  Within weeks the Tectonic Theater Project was on the scene interviewing residents – friends of Shepherd, friends of the perpetrators and citizens. What emerged was The Laramie Project which created a compelling theater piece using the actual words the project heard.  The Connecticut Repertory Theater on the UConn campus in Storrs is presenting a production of this play  to Oct. 18.  Randy Burre, who you may know from HBO’s The Wire is a member of the cast. For tickets visit crt.uconn.edu or call 860-486-2113.

 

Plagiarism: It is a problem on college campuses and even high schools.  Third by Wendy Wasserstein examines the issue of a college professor who accuses a student of plagiarism.  But is she influenced by her stereotype of the student?  Her assumptions?  The increasingly polarized political atmosphere on campus?  TheaterWorks in Hartford opens its season with a production of this thought-provoking play, to Nov. 8. Rob Ruggiero, the artistic director directs the cast which features Kate Levy as the professor.  For tickets call 860-527-7838.

Leaving New Haven: Eric Ting, Long Wharf’s associate artistic director since 2004 is leaving New Haven for a new position.  He has been named artistic director of California Shakespeare Theater. Congratulations and good luck.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.

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