by Beki Pineda
INDECENT – Written by Paula Vogel; Directed by Nancy Keystone. Produced by Denver Center Theatre Company (presented at the Space Theatre, 14th and Curtis, Denver) through October 6. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.
Webster’s definition of “diaspora:” the movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland. Paula Vogel’s touching play follows not only the migration of a group of people from their homeland, but also the migration of a theatrical event. The play this play remembers is THE GOD OF VENGEANCE written by Sholem Asch in 1906. In it, a proud and haughty Jewish man lives with his family above his business – a brothel on the ground floor employing three ladies of the night. He tries to buy the respect of his neighbors by throwing parties, but only the poorest people attend for the food and drink. His daughter is his prize possession and she must be provided with the best of everything and protected from the dirty business going on downstairs. In Jewish tradition, the most proud must fall and so it happens that his daughter forms a questionable relationship with one of the girls he employs. Of course, his unlikely plan to marry her off to the son of a prominent family is shattered, along with his dreams of residual respectability. The love the two women – the virgin and the prostitute – share is illustrated by a sweet scene of them dancing in the rain.
The migration of this play from its origins in Berlin in 1907 to other European cities and to New York in the original Yiddish also shows a theatre company dedicated to the preservation of a work of art they believed in. Translating the script to English and finally producing it on Broadway in 1923 created a storm of controversy between the Orthodox and Radical branches of the religion. Their run there was cut short after six weeks when the actors and theatre owner were convicted with a charge of obscenity (later overturned in appeal) and the theatre closed. Part of the reality of INDECENT is the turmoil the troupe of actors experienced as they went from place to place with this controversial piece, doing it over and over again. They were on the road for six years, forming a family and allowing the gradual relationship between the two female actresses to echo the love story they had been portraying for so long.
While it sounds very dramatic, it is, in fact, full of humor and music. The troupe includes musicians Ben Cohen (accordion), Erik Fellenstein (violin), and Meg York (clarinet) who underscore the entire production and accompany the actors in rousing musical numbers, a sort of Jewish chorus line. The acting company consists of two elders (Paul Kreppel and Valerie Spencer) who play Yankl and his wife, Sarah, herself a former prostitute; two “middle’s” (Lianne Marie Dobbs and Jonathan Spivey) as Manke, the temptress and Mendel, the actor playing multiple roles; and Andrea Goss and Zal Owen as the two Ingenue’s playing the daughter Rifkele and the actor Avram, also playing multiple roles. John Plumpis was Lemmi, the Stage Manager and mediator between members of the Company and between the Company and the outside world. Together they show the world in which THE GOD OF VENGEANCE is created as well as the actors in the play that has been created – a complicated tightrope to navigate for their audience, but one which they walk with ease.
For theatre lovers, this is an inside look at the world of an acting company. For history buffs, this is a slice of life exploring Jewish tradition, Yiddish history and an intimate look at the theatrical world of the 1920’s. For feminists, this is the story of two women finding each other and their place in the world. For lovers of a good story, this fills the bill completely with heartwarming moments, the humor of inside jokes we are all a part of, the music of the times, and theatrical cleverness.
Director Nancy Keystone has staged the production with clarity and imagination. The technical team that included a scenic design by Efren Delgadillo, Jr. and a lighting design by Elizabeth Harper utilizing stage lights that come out of the floor to designate different theatres in different towns enhanced the production with their creativity. The casting of the mostly Off-Broadway and New York actors gave us new faces to observe while also enjoying the magic violin of local actor Erik Fellenstein.
A WOW factor of 8.5!!