Tag Archives: Rebecca Taichman

“Time and The Conways” Is More than a Just a Drawing Room Comedy

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Anna Baryshnikov, Charlotte Parry, Matthew James Thomas, Anna Camp. Photo by Jeremy Daniel

By Karen Isaacs

The curtain rises on the first scene of Time and the Conways now at Roundabout’s American Airlines theater through Nov. 26 and you will assume you are in for a typical ‘20s-‘30s British drawing room comedy.

The set by Neil Patel is a large, well-furnished room with a door to a hallway. Sounds of gaiety emanate from off-stage. Soon four young ladies enter, the four Conway sisters who vary in age from late teens to mid-twenties. The occasion is Kay’s 21st birthday party and they are going through costumes for a charade. But all is not exactly as it seems. It is 1919, a year after WWI ended; their father has died a few earlier in a bizarre accident, and one of their brothers is about to be demobilized from the army.

Though this is a well-to-do family, they are not the “idle rich.”  One sister (Madge) is a school teacher and ardent socialist, Kay is an aspiring writer/novelist, only the oldest sister (Hazel) seems to live a life of ease; her goal is a successful marriage and living in London.  Carol, the youngest is still in her teens. Their elder brother (Alan) works as clerk for the township. It is clear he has the least ambition of them all.

When Mrs. Conway enters (Elizabeth McGovern) she seems almost as young and vivacious as her daughters. By the time the scene has ended, Robin has returned home and quickly decided to marry one of Hazel’s friends (Joan).  A dour young man (Ernest) who is new to town has been introduced brought by another friend, Gerald. Hazel recognizes Ernest as the man she has seen around town and has felt as though he was stalking her.

The scene changes with the help of a set coming down from above and moving forward. It is 1937 but the set looks exactly like the earlier one. Now the entire family has gathered again, well almost of them, the youngest daughter is missing. Life has not necessarily been easy for some of the Conways.

The reason for the gathering?  Mrs. Conway has money troubles and the question is what to do. The house is not worth what was it was (this is still the depression) and she has not necessarily been careful about her funds. We learn what has happened to the siblings in the almost twenty years. Madge is now head of a school and is not only adamant about not helping to support her mother, but seems very angry with her.  Kay is a journalist working on magazines without the illusions or ideals she had as a budding novelist. Alan is still working the town, He’s the one that has been keeping a watch on his mother.

The marriage between Robin and Joan has deteriorated; he drinks and has left her with minimal support for their children. His big dreams have come to naught. Gerald is now Mrs. Conway’s solicitor.

Hazel is trapped in an unhappy marriage to Ernest who is cold and sneering. She may have money but she is dominated by her husband who obviously has little regard for her or the family.

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Elizabeth McGovern, Brooke Bloom, Charlotte Parry.  Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Act two takes us back to the 1919 party, as the guests leave and we see the seeds that will lead to the 1937 situation. Why Madge is so angry with her mother, why Ernest views the family so negatively and why Joan made the wrong choice.

J. B. Priestley is best known for his layered works that examine British society (and all societies) in both a political and philosophical framework. This play which was written in 1937, uses the Conways to illustrate the actions and ideas that led Britain to the situation it found itself. At the same time, he is also discussing the philosophical concept of time.

His theories of how different dimensions link the past, present and future are woven into the plot of this play. The ending, when Kay realizes that Alan is the happiest of them all – and had the least ambition, is fascinating. Alan tells Kay (they are still in 1919) that in the future he could tell her something that would help her.

Tony winner Rebecca Taichman has directed this play keeping it in both the time and style of the period and the drawing room comedy. She allows the audience to slowly explore the depths of Priestley’s play. In this she is aided by the period costumes by Paloma Young and the effective lighting by Christopher Akerlind and sound by Matt Hubbs.

One of the attractions of this production is the return of Elizabeth McGovern to the New York stage. McGovern, who most recently played Lady Cora in Downton Abby, is an experienced stage actress. She handles the role expertly.  Her Mrs. Conway is almost as youthful (dare we say flighty) as her young daughters in the first act and by the time we get to 1937, she is still not truly mature. Her way to deal with difficulties is to ignore them or engage in wishful thinking.

It is hard to fault any of the supporting cast members. Gabriel Ebert has the challenge of imbuing the duller Alan with a sense of longing and quiet desperation. He does this so well, that your eyes are constantly drawn to him. Brooke Bloom as Madge, Charlotte Parry as Kay, Anna Barysknikov as Carol and Anna Camp as Hazel are all excellent. Steven Boyer as Ernest shows the lower class striver with a huge chip on his shoulder. He doesn’t seem to have an ounce of humanity in him.

Time and The Conway is at Roundabout’s American Airline Theatre, 227 W. 42nd Street through November 26. For tickets visit Roundabout Theatre.

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Matthew James Thomas, Alfred Narciso, Steven Boyer, Charlotte Parry. Photo by Jeremy Daniel

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

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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).

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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.

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

‘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.

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