Indecent is a powerful and profoundly moving story on the struggle for art and truth. If a work speaks boldly, is it offensive? Or is the truth itself indecent? Is art meant to inspire or shock? Or both?
Indecent is a play within a play. It is the story of how the controversial play, God of Vengeance, the first Broadway show to feature two women sharing a kiss, came to America. Written in 1906 by Sholem Asch, the play centres on a love story between two women in a brothel, owned by the Jewish father of one of the women. Sholem’s intentions are to show the complexities of Jewish culture- that there are unsavoury elements and as well as moral heroes (or heroines). While the Orthodox leaders are outraged, the play is performed to acclaim all over Europe. For its Broadway debut in 1923, the play is translated from its original Yiddish to English with unfortunate results. The translation and edits take away from the intended meaning of key scenes. Instead of a love story, it is reduced to vulgarity. The troupe is arrested for obscenity after a brief theatrical run.
Everyone involved faces opposition from their own community as well as within the land of the free. Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe as well as in America. Nevertheless, the stage manager, Lemml, believes that there is life in art and art is life. He brings the show back to Poland where terrible trouble is flourishing. In spite of the danger, the play brings audiences and performers together in the power of the story. Yet, Sholem fears the play’s influence and its consequences. It is a devastating example of how one can let a work of art uplift their spirit or crush it.
The cast is superb performing the theatrical tropes of the Ingenue, the Middle, and the Elder. They bring the joy of creating something beautiful and discovering the beauty in themselves. Marvelous! A three-piece musical group perform Yiddish songs that set the mood wonderfully. The production uses projected texts to show the scene and language changes among the characters, even though English is mostly spoken onstage.
Art can be unifying or divisive. It can stir deeper truths for people or for just one person. Despite attempts to silence art, it does not die. The voices may be gone but the words remain. The story lives and in that, the people live.
Photo credit: Leslie Schachter
Indecent. Directed by Lisa Rubin. Written by Paula Vogel. Show continues until May 19, at Segal Centre, 5170 Chemin de la Côte-Ste-Catherine, Montreal. Call the box office 514-739-7944 or go to www.segalcentre.org