Back in 2015, Yale Repertory Theatre presented the world premiere of Paula Vogel’s “Indecent” in a stellar production that moved to Broadway where it won critical raves and Tony nominations. Approaching Playhouse on Park’s new production of Vogel’s masterwork I worried that the small but plucky theatre troupe had taken on more than they could handle. My worries soon dissipated. This is one of POP’s very best productions in their 14-year season.
Based on the controversial obscenity trial of an American production of Sholem Asch’s classic “The God of Vengeance”, this is easily Paula Vogel’s finest work since her 1998 Pulitzer Prize winning “How I Learned to Drive”. “Indecent” charts the journey of “God of Vengeance” from its 1907 origins in Warsaw to its scandalous American Broadway debut in 1923 at the Apollo Theatre. Due to its frank treatment of a lesbian romance, a complaint against the play by a local rabbi resulted in the actors, producer and theatre owner being jailed and then convicted. Interesting to note in its production history, “God of Vengeance” managed to play on European stages for years without incident and only met blowback when coming to America.
At the Playhouse “Indecent” features a company of eleven actors (which includes three musicians) who perform several roles with quick costume changes on a stark stage. Director Kelly O’Donnell’s fluid staging provides theatrical magic throughout as scenes and characters flow effortlessly from one to another. Katie Stevinson-Nollet’s incidental choreography adds immeasurably to the magic as we travel to a variety of sites that include a living room in Warsaw, a small theatre in Berlin and an attic in the Jewish ghetto during the Nazi occupation. The live music (Mariz Godowsky (violin), Nelly Friedman (Accordion), Mayer Balsam (clarinet) is invaluable and the musicians deserve praise for the klezmer-rich score which moves the action smoothly over the many decades represented in the play
The acting, too, is never less than true ensemble work from beginning to end. Special mention must be given Don Zimberg whose moving performance as Lemml, the shy tailor turned stage manager, is the heart of this perceptive drama. As the lovers offstage and on, Helen Laser and Kirsten Peacock’s bracing chemistry is never in doubt and Dan Krackhardt is also terrific both as Sholem Asch and in a memorable, funny cameo as the great playwright, Eugene O’Neill.
Izzy Fields’ simple costuming reflects the changing periods while Jeffrey Salerno’s haunting sound design works in perfect tandem with the musicians’ live contribution. The effective and spare scenic design by Johann Fitzpatrick and the evocative lighting by Joe Beumer are also ideal. The play, itself, seems to have gone through some trimming since Yale running just 100 minutes now without intermission. And every minute counts. At POP, this is a challenging and very accomplished work. Mazel tov!
“Indecent” continues at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road in West Hartford through February 26. For further information and ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 860-523-5900 Ext. 10 or visit: playhouseonpark.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.