Quote of the Day: A play has the power to change a life. Hugh Kennedy, actor who plays Shalom Asch and others in the Guthrie’s production of Indecent, a play with music by Paula Vogel. This play changed my life, says the character Lemml about Asch’s play God of Vengeance. He follows it through it’s first reading to the moment where it has the most power to transform. Paula Vogel herself describes the transforming experience of reading Asch’s play for the first time. Words and stories have power. When we see them brought to life in front of our eyes, in a single moment in time, alongside other audience members, we are never the same again.
I feel completely inadequate to write anything about this extraordinary production of Indecent, a play with music by Paula Vogel, on stage now at the Guthrie Theater. I feel like it’s her Opus, her masterwork, and we are the fortunate ones who are able to be witness to it. How would you write about Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, or Handel’s Messiah, if you were the first audience to hear it performed? How would you describe your feelings the first time Van Gogh’s Starry Night was revealed? Or, the moment you first fell in love or looked into the eyes of your child?
I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this piece, the marriage of music to words, the weaving of stories, and the emotional response shown by the actors, and felt by the audience. I heard murmurs and sighs among the audience members, sprinkled in with laughter, and possibly a few tears. Paula Vogel shows us how a play can truly change a life.
Ben Cherry who plays Lemml the Stage Manager is at the center of the above photo. He is also at the center of this play. You think the play is about the playwright Shalom Asch (Hugh Kennedy, and later Robert Dorfman) and how his controversial play God of Vengeance impacted anyone who came in contact with it. It played throughout Europe in the early 1900’s, but when they brought it to America in the 1920’s, it changed. Someone did a rewrite that took away it’s true beauty through the translation from Yiddish to English and the censorship of the content. Asch seemed to throw up his hands of the work, abandoning it, and the people involved with it, as he lay under the heavy burden of the horrible times he was living in. The Holocaust was approaching, and he felt helpless.
Indecent is about more than a single playwright and his plight, one man and his art. It’s about the characters he created and the people who were changed by the play itself. Lemml represents the people who saw the world in a new way, who felt lifted up by the power of the words, and saw the connection it made between people and within themselves.
This story is told through Paula Vogel’s exquisite dialogue, married closely to the music composed by Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva, with projections on the stage within a stage that guide us through the varying characters, time periods, and languages. The actors dance, sing, and move seamlessly from one character into the next. And, always, we’re brought back to the story and the impact it has on them. We witness love and tenderness within a brutal world.
The actors are expert in playing their various roles: Ben Cherry as Lemml, Gisela Chipe, Robert Dorfman, Steven Epp, Hugh Kennedy, Miriam Schwartz, and Sally Wingert. The musicians are on stage and perform with the actor, sometimes taking on small roles: Spencer Chandler on the accordian, Lisa Gutkin on violin who is also a co-composer, and Pat O’Keefe on the clarinet.
Director Wendy Goldberg did an amazing job of filling the space of the Wurtele Thrust stage. Scenic Designer Arnulfo Maldonado has turned that stage into remnants of former theaters that hold the memories and the music of past performances. The stacked suitcases in the corner reminded me of photos of the Holocaust when people had to leave all their worldly possessions behind. All the elements are important in creating the atmosphere of this story: Costume Design by Anne Kennedy, Lighting by Josh Epstein, Sound by Kate Marvin, and Projection Design by Alex Basco Koch. Yehuda Hyman choreographed this wonderful piece, and Jill Walmsley Zager was vocal coach. And, applause to all the folks who work hard behind the scenes to make this all happen!
The Guthrie Theater is the first post-Broadway production of Indecent. It played at the Cort Theatre on Broadway from May 17 – August 3, 2017. Ben Cherry, who plays Lemml in the Guthrie’s production, was in the original Broadway cast. It was nominated for three Tony Awards and won for Best Play Direction and Best Lighting Design of a Play. You need to go see this incredible show!
Indecent is playing at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN through March 24, 2018. I wish I could go see it again.
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: Describe an emotional response you had to a moment in your life or when experiencing the arts.