Indecent – or not? Behind the play within a play

in·de·cent

/ˌinˈdēs(ə)nt/

adjective

  1. not conforming with generally accepted standards of behavior or propriety; obscene.“the film was grossly indecent”

    • not appropriate or fitting.“they leaped on the suggestion with indecent haste.”

Why would a play be called “Indecent?” Indecent, by Paula Vogel, is Concord Player’s newest offering, February 10, 11, 17, 18, 19 (matinee), 24 and 25, and directed by Shira Helena Gitlin,

Gitlin first saw Indecent on Broadway in 2017. From the moment the play started, she knew she was experiencing something special. A play within a play. A play with music but not a musical. She had never seen anything like it. And as a queer Jewish theater maker, she saw a part of her own history that she had never heard of before. She knew she needed to direct this show as soon as possible. 

Indecent, says Gitlin, is a rare piece of theater that simultaneously documents and creates. Fictional narratives weave through real figures in history as we follow the creation of the first Yiddish play on Broadway, Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance. In 1923, on opening night, the production was shut down and the whole cast was arrested for indecency, thus the name of the play.

We follow Lemml the stage manager as he watches the show go from a reading in a tiny kitchen in Warsaw. to productions all over Europe, to a Broadway premier and finally back to Poland to an attic in the lost ghetto in 1943.

While Indecent touches on antisemitism, homophobia and immigration, the play isn’t inherently political. Instead, we watch the true history of a piece of theater play out before us and witness these themes which are all still incredibly relevant today as books and movies are banned in schools all over the U.S.

Ultimately Indecent speaks the loudest about authenticity, truth and fear. God of Vengeance wasn’t just shut down because it showed a scene where two women kiss but also because it showed Jewish people in all their forms, the good and the bad; the pure and the evil.

Indecent brings up the question of assimilation as actors are forced to leave their identity and homes behind; translating Yiddish to English and undergoing rewrites in order to please the Broadway audience. And it wasn’t just the legal system that had issues with the play. It was also other Jewish people who were afraid of the reprercussions of the story Ash was telling.

There are definitely solemn moments in this play but director Gitlin finds the show hinges on joy, celebration and creation. We watch a performance in a Berlin cabaret; sit with Eugene O’Neill over a beer and experience the excitement of setting foot in America for the very first time. Indecent takes us all through a visual and auditory journey through the rich history of Yiddish theater. Gitlin is so excited to bring this joyous piece of art to the stage and she can’t wait for you to be in the audience with her in February. 

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