By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
A troupe of Yiddish actors in gray overcoats march on to the stage, followed by a lively Klezmer band (Erikka Walsh, Janice Coppola and Spiff Wiegand). One bedraggled player steps downstage. Lemml AKA Lou (Maury Ginsberg) introduces himself and says, “We have a story we want to tell you about a play — a play that changed my life.”
Then, the actors tell the story of a play that changed Lemml’s life and many others, Sholem Asch’s “God of Vengeance.” The play within a play in Paula Vogel’s “Indecent.”
In Warsaw, Sholem (Robert Tendy) has written his first play in Yiddish. His wife (Emily Daly) thinks its brilliant, but his colleagues think it’s an aberration (Robert Zukerman and Ricardo Vila-Roger). The work is about a Jewish brothel owner and his daughter who is entangled in a lesbian romance right before her arranged marriage.
With a healthy amount of chutzpah, Asch and Lemml take the manuscript to Berlin, where it attracts the attention of Rudolph Schildkraut (Zukerman), a famous actor. Meanwhile, the two female stars of the play, Ruth (Daly) and Dine (Meg Pryor) begin a romance off-stage.
The play becomes a success and tours all over the world. Finally, it gets a chance on Broadway where the producers make dramatic cuts to minimize the lesbian love story. When the curtain falls at the end of the Broadway premiere, the entire cast is arrested for indecency.
Late in his life, his wife Madje (Laurie Klatscher) invites a young man to their home (Tendy) to speak to Sholem (now Zukerman) about his reviving his infamous play in a new English translation, but Sholem can only think of the havoc the play has wrought and is reminded of the advice of his mentor, I.L. Peretz, “You should burn it.”
Everyone has a different idea of what art is. A play can be seen as filthy and immoral. Others can see it as beautiful and poetic. Bob Marley once said, “Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”
“Indecent” is all about the rain.
Director Risa Brainin masterfully commands over this powerful and provocative work.
The cast is stupendous. All of them.
Ginsberg is charismatic. His Lemml grabs a hold of an idea and never lets it go. He is an unwavering force of nature.
Pryor does an outstanding job. She captures this rare emotional moment when her character is overcome by love and sadness simultaneously. It’s beautifully done.
Tendy has some fine moments in his various roles. There is one brief yet brilliant moment when he portrays Eugene O’Neill. Tendy’s range is on full display when he goes from the tentative Asch to the boisterous and confident O’Neill.
Daly plays several important characters. She does a terrific job, but her final scene with Pryor is elegant and moving.
Kudos to Dialect Coach John McManus. The accents are an important part of the show, and they are never cloying or grating.There’s some lovely sound and projection design by Zach Moore. The title cards are artfully done.
The Klezmer band is outstanding, particularly when the ladies of the show sing “Bei Mir Bist Du Schon” as the Bagelman (AKA Barry) Sisters.
Every member of the cast plays multiple roles and it gets a little confusing at times, but it is a stunning piece of work that should not be missed. There is an actual show-stopping ending that will not be spoiled here. It is beautiful, poignant, tragic and poetic.
“Indecent” is a must see.
“Indecent” runs through May 19 at the O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.