Review | Indecent: beautifully dilapidated

The Guthrie, through March 24

Miriam Schwartz, Sally Wingert and Robert Dorfman in INDECENT. Photo by Dan Norman.

Your two agèd (make that astute and intelligent) reviewers, John Olive and Janet Preus, recently attended a performance at the G of Paula Vogel‘s Indecent. They then repaired to the bar downstairs and prepared the following review:

John Olive: First the good (and it’s – no surprise at the Guthrie – very good): the acting in Indecent is marvelous. The feeling of ensemble is superb. No one shoulders his or her way to the front rank. Everyone is perfect. It’s hard to rank actors like this, but I was particularly taken with Ben Cherry and Miriam Schwartz.

Janet Preus: I agree about the acting and I would also put the always-entrancing Steven Epp is the first rank.

But why was Ben Cherry given a special program note? Everyone is featured at some point during Indecent.

JO: In my not-so-humble opinion: ego. In order to attract an accomplished performer like Cherry, they had to promise him a special program credit. I’m probably wrong.

JP: I hope you are.

JO: I often am.

In addition to Cherry, Schwartz and Epp, the actors are: Sally Wingert, Gisela Chipe, Hugh Kennedy and Robert Dorfman.

JP: The production is excellent. The way the director uses the set, the ensemble vibe, the outstanding use of double casting. I love the dilapidated, murky look of Indecent. (The production was directed by Wendy Goldberg, with sets by Arnulfo Maldonado, lighting by Josh Epstein, sound by Kate Marvin and costumes by Anne Kennedy.)

JO: Okay, the play. First the good: Indecent is a portrait of the evolution of a play, The Gods Of Vengeance, and at the heart of the play are two things: an “indecent” relationship, between two women, and a portrait of Judaism in Europe in the early 20th century (the play is written in 1907). These things coexist uneasily but nonetheless they stay in the play as it moves across Europe, to New York (initially The Gods Of Vengeance plays in the Yiddish theater), to the famous Provincetown Playhouse and finally – more on this momentarily – to Broadway.

JP: Vogel brings a brilliant sensibility to all this. She really understands European theater. And New York Theater.

This gives Indecent laudable intensity.

JO: But the play confuses, especially in the latter half.

JP: And I couldn’t fathom why there is no intermission.

JO: If the Bway producer “fixes” the play (i.e. gets rid of the putatively offensive lesbian love affair), why is the cast arrested, brought up on (apparently) career-ending charges which ends with them all back in Poland. All this gives Indecent a flaccid, when’s-it-gonna-end feel.

JP: Here’s another take … It starts on such an intimate level – a reading in a living room – but the play-within-a-play becomes sort of epic in scope, with it spilling over and being absorbed, in a sense, by Vogel’s characters. Maybe you said it better. But these actors (and the director) were so at ease with this dynamic. I’m still thinking about it.

JO: Indeed.

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