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Perry’s Previews Theatre Review – Indecent

Published on: 3rd December, 2015


The cast of INDECENT written by Paula Vogel, created by Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman, directed by Rebecca Taichman. Photo by Carol Rosegg, 2015.

The cast of INDECENT written by Paula Vogel, created by Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman, directed by Rebecca Taichman. Photo by Carol Rosegg, 2015.

 

 

Perry’s Previews Theater Review – Indecent

4 starfish TM

 

 

(4 out of 5 Starfish)

 

By Perry S. Chen                                                                     December 3, 2015

Perry Chen & Zhu Shen with La Jolla Playhouse Executive Director Michael Rosenberg at "Indecent" premiere (photo by Richard Nesdale)

Perry Chen & Zhu Shen with La Jolla Playhouse Executive Director Michael Rosenberg at “Indecent” premiere (photo by Richard Nesdale)

 

First experiences, be they apprehensive or delightful, frightening or intriguing, always hold a great level of excitement. Recently, my mom decided to attend an event at the San Diego Art Institute (the same place where I attended an art intensive program twice a week throughout the summer), where La Jolla Playhouse Managing Director Michael Rosenberg was speaking. Michael and mom had a nice conversation following his talk, and when my mom explained that I was a movie, food and entertainment critic his first response was “Does he review plays?”

“Not yet!” mom replied. Attending a live theater performance was something I had little recollection of; the last one that I attended and watched in its entirety was probably in elementary school.  And there I was, walking to the La Jolla Playhouse without any prior knowledge or expectations for the opening night play–“Indecent” on November 18, 2015.

Perry Chen with mom/Producer Zhu Shen at "Incedent" La Jolla Playhouse premiere (photo by Richard Nesdale)

Perry Chen with mom/Producer Zhu Shen at “Incedent” La Jolla Playhouse premiere (photo by Richard Nesdale)

Perry Chen at La Jolla Playhouse lobby (photo by Richard Nesdale)

Perry Chen at La Jolla Playhouse lobby (photo by Richard Nesdale)

 

“Indecent,” by Paula Vogel, is a historical drama play based on the true story behind the inception, conception, and reception of Polish-Jewish playwright Sholem Asch’s highly controversial and provocative 1907 Yiddish play The God of Vengeance. The stated play, set in a town of Asch’s native Poland, tells of Jewish brothel owner Yekel, who desperately tries to keep his 17-year-old daughter Rifkele chaste and obedient, despite the nature of his profession. However, the girl becomes enamored with Manke, an older prostitute. Long story short, it’s not a happy ending for the two lesbian lovers, as Yekel concludes the play by sending his own daughter down into the whorehouse and subsequently renouncing his religion by casting away his holy scrolls. This poignant and dramatic concluding scene illustrates that immoral prosperity and business corrupts, and how a man’s disgust can overshadow not only his love for his daughter, but his love for his religion as well.

1920s Broadway, where much of “Indecent” took place, was by far the most hostile towards Sholem Asch’s play. The cast and crew were the first theater production to ever be convicted in court for giving an “immoral and obscene performance,” due to the play featuring the first lesbian kiss in Broadway history. The actors received suspended sentences from the jury on opening night; charged for indecency. On top of this, even many American Jews viewed Asch’s work as treacherous defamation of the image they had worked hard to establish. Although Asch’s decision to paint Jewish characters in an unsavory light was meant to emphasize their humanity on some level, to the established Jews of New York, it felt more like an anti-Semitic stab in the back from a fellow man.

Being the first time I’ve watched a play in its entirety, the differences between the stage and the silver screen stand out the most. In the traditional cinema that I have always known and loved, the actions of the characters advance the plot. Being used to movies, I could notice right away that the actors had to be overly dramatic in order to project themselves and let their characters’ voice be heard. The skill of the actors was absolutely remarkable. There were only two or three designated musicians, so a few members of the character actors had to know how to pick up a violin or clarinet if they were to play a musical duet. The props were also minimal because locations changed so often, so there was no elaborately constructed set. Even so, the ingenuity in the repurposing of props was a spectacle in itself; for example, stacking suitcases and a sheet of cloth were used as a makeshift table.

However, the most interesting thing about theatre is that it is the other way around: the storyline determines how the characters act. Vogel’s script, combined with Director Rebecca Taichman’s execution, made for an incredibly powerful opening scene. The act begins with introducing the characters with dust flowing from every sleeve and hand, a symbol whose significance is revealed in the final moments of the play. And unlike films there are no cuts or retakes, so the burden of memorization and rehearsal weighs down stronger on troupe members.

Taking all this into consideration, “Indecent” was an impressive work of performance art. With a masterful balance of lighthearted moments as well as drama and tension, “Indecent” is never too boring, nor is it ever over-stimulatingly thrilling. Even though the story itself touches on heavy historical subjects, sorrow seldom overshadows the more subtle aspects and themes of the play. There are plenty of humorous moments too; “Indecent” features spectacular songs often used to introduce a new scene, time, or place. Needless to say, the characters are superb in both the scripted acting and the execution.

Perry Chen interviewing Christopher Ashley La Jolla Playhouse artistic director (photo by Zhu Shen)

Perry Chen interviewing Christopher Ashley, La Jolla Playhouse artistic director (photo by Zhu Shen)

 

Christopher Ashley, Artistic Director at La Jolla Playhouse, in a nutshell, is the person who decides which plays to show at the theater; every play shown on stage goes through him. Ashley explained that he chose “Indecent not only because he is a huge fan of Paula Vogel’s works, but also that he wants to raise awareness about the fact that plays written in Yiddish are becoming increasingly scarce in theater productions. “There really aren’t that many people under the age of 80 who speak Yiddish anymore. So, if you care about culture, […] art, and […] language, it’s interesting to watch a play about how that stuff gets disappeared.” And even though Ashley predicts that Yiddish plays will disappear eventually, he feels that “Indecent” and “The God of Vengeance will be known for many years to come as seminal works of their time.

The God of Vengeance was incredibly provocative for its time, but many subjects that the Yiddish play brought up on the Broadway stage nearly a century ago are still issues for heated debate and controversy today. “I do think some are. I think the lesbian angle is less controversial than it was back then,” he stated. “But the question of ‘is it okay to mount a play that’s not all the way complementary about its characters?’ is still really hot; whether that’s Jewish, whether that’s Christian, whether that’s Muslim… the idea of… are you supposed to do P.R. for the culture and say we’re great and perfect in every way?” However, Ashley does not completely oppose unfavorable depictions of Jews onstage. “Art has to embrace… [the fact that] ‘People are complicated,’” he explains, “and there’s beautiful and unsavory parts of everyone, […] it doesn’t mean that you’re bad, that’s just what life is like.”

11-18-15 Perry talking to actor Nelis at reception 2

Perry Chen interviewing actor Tom Nelis at “Indecent” La Jolla Playhouse premiere (photo by Zhu Shen)

Perry Chen with actor Tom Nelis & director Rebecca Taichman at "Indecent" premiere (photo by Richard Nesdale)

Perry Chen with actor Tom Nelis & director Rebecca Taichman at “Indecent” premiere (photo by Richard Nesdale)

 

One of the most outstanding actors to me was Tom Nelis, whose booming voice, stirring singing, and incredible versatility down to the smallest nuance in his portrayals were a sight to behold. Katina Lenk’s character also expertly captured the essence of the Roaring Twenties through her smoking, her costume and her mannerisms.

Nelis, renowned Broadway actor with a major role in “Indecent”, shared my views about the differences between film and theater, and was quick to comment that “one of the things that distinguishes very good theater is you can’t do it on film, it is something that would never work on film.” He elaborates that “our show… like on film, [people] would be like… what are they doing? But in the theater, suddenly… it makes sense! ‘Cause the theater sets up special rules […] that you pick up on, as the audience.”

For Nelis, one of the greatest aspects of plays, is “the opportunity in plays that’s hard to find […], [is] that real vulnerability of people that you’re in a room with.” “It’s not all good by a long shot,” Nelis admits, “but you know, it’s like film. You’ll see [something] occasionally and you’ll go, ‘that’s why people go to the theater!’” Words well spoken. And after seeing “Indecent,” I feel that my eyes have been opened to a whole new world of art, so different from the comfort of the silver screen and yet thrilling in its spontaneity.

I give “Indecent” 4 out of 5 starfish!

“Indecent” runs through December 10, 2015 at the La Jolla Playhouse, catch it before it is gone!

http://www.lajollaplayhouse.org/indecent

 

"Indecent" cast members at La Jolla Playhouse premiere (photo by Richard Nesdale)

“Indecent” cast members at La Jolla Playhouse premiere (photo by Richard Nesdale)

 

"Indecent" La Jolla Playhouse premiere reception (photo by Richard Nesdale)

“Indecent” La Jolla Playhouse premiere reception (photo by Richard Nesdale)

 

Copyright 2015 by Perry S. Chen

————

About Perry Chen:

Perry S. Chen is a 15-year-old award-winning entertainment critic, artist, animator, TEDx speaker, and entertainment personality, currently in 10th grade from San Diego.  He started reviewing movies at age 8 in 3rd grade using a kid-friendly starfish rating system, and has been featured in CBS, NPR, NBC, CNN, CCTV (China Central Television), Variety, Animation Magazine, The Young Icons, The Guardian, The China Press, etc.  He was a presenter at the 2010 Annie Awards for Animation, and has written movie reviews for Animation World Network, San Diego Union Tribune, Amazing Kids! Magazine, and his own Perry’s Previews blog, as well as restaurant reviews for DiningOut San Diego Magazine and San Diego Entertainer. He won numerous San Diego Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards in 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2015 for his movie and restaurant reviews.  He also received the 2nd Screen Global Con iCON Jr. Innovator of the Year Award in 2012 for his animation work.

Perry is currently writing, animating, and directing his most personal film to date, “Changyou’s Journey,” produced by his mom Dr. Zhu Shen, about his beloved father Dr. Changyou Chen, a cancer researcher who passed away in July 2012 from terminal cancer after a long, brave battle, please watch trailer and donate to support Perry’s animation film:

http://www.perryspreviews.com/?p=3878

Perry is widely recognized as an authoritative spokesperson about movies for his generation, and appears frequently at red carpet movie premieres, awards, and film festivals, interviewing prominent directors from such films as Toy Story 3, Up, How to Train Your Dragon, and Kung Fu Panda.  He was a presenter at the 2010 Annie Awards for Animation in Hollywood.  Perry and his mom Dr. Zhu Shen are featured in a book about parenting and youth entrepreneurship, “The Parent’s Guide to Raising CEO Kids,” published in Aug 2011.

Perry’s first animation short “Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest,” about a young Holocaust survivor, in collaboration with animation legend Bill Plympton, won multiple film festival awards, qualified for an Oscar in 2012, and has been screened at over 30 international film festivals, now available on iTunes.

More info: http://ingridpitt.co.uk

Watch “Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest” on iTunes:

http://itunes.apple.com/gb/movie/ingrid-pitt-beyond-the-forest/id554607718

Watch Perry on “Live Life & Win” national TV show:

http://vimeo.com/51042736

Become a fan on Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/ingridpittanimation (Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest official FB page)

http://www.facebook.com/perryspreviewsfan (Perry’s Previews fan page)

Subscribe to Perry’s YouTube channel and watch his filmmaker interviews:

http://www.youtube.com/perryspreviews

For inquiries about Perry Chen, his animation films, movie reviews, contact Dr. Zhu Shen, cc0218 at gmail dot com

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