Five reasons the play “Indecent” is must-see TV

Five reasons the play “Indecent” is must-see TV
The company of "Indecent," by Paula Vogel. Photo: Carol Rosegg.

When “Indecent” opened on Broadway in 2017, it was hailed by critics as “captivating” and “gorgeous” and a “heart-stirring” reminder of the “power of art.” The production — winner of two Tony Awards — was captured by Great Performances during its original run and will air on ALL ARTS Tuesday, Jan. 28 at 10 p.m.

Inspired by the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s “God of Vengeance,” this play with music by Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel (“How I Learned to Drive”) is set at a time when waves of immigrants were changing America. Directed by Rebecca Taichman (“Time and the Conways”), Indecent follows the actors who risked their lives and careers to perform Asch’s play at a time when art, freedom and truth were on trial. Told with compassion, honesty and great theatricality, the critically-acclaimed play stars Katrina Lenk (“The Band’s Visit”), Mimi Lieber (“Act One”), Max Gordon Moore (“Relatively Speaking”) and Adina Verson (“Indecent,” Vineyard Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse and Yale Repertory Theater).

Before you tune in, here are five reasons this timely and compelling play is must-see TV.

It’s inspired by a scandalous Yiddish play

“God of Vengeance” caused a scandal when it debuted on Broadway in 1923 because the plot involved a Jewish brothel owner and the love affair between his daughter and one of his prostitutes. Although a controversial rain-soaked love scene between the two women was cut for the Broadway production, a prominent New York rabbi filed a complaint with the vice squad, and a police detective arrived mid-performance to arrest the cast and producer for “obscene, indecent, immoral and impure material.” They were put on trial — and found guilty.

It features rising star Katrina Lenk

While “Indecent” is notable for its impressive ensemble, it’s impossible to ignore the star power of Tony Award winner Katrina Lenk, who sings, dances, plays the violin and performs several versions of the infamous love scene in the play-within-the-play. Variety called the versatile actress and musician “alluring,” while Entertainment Weekly raved, “Luminous Katrina Lenk brings crackling mischief to the actress playing the prostitute.” If Lenk’s stellar performance in “Indecent” turns you into a super-fan, you’re in luck: you can catch her on Broadway in the upcoming Marianne Elliott-directed revival of “Company,” starring two-time Tony Award and two-time Grammy Award winner Patti LuPone.

Katrina Lenk as ‘Manke,’ Adina Verson as ‘Rifkele’ in "Indecent," by Paula Vogel. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Katrina Lenk as “Manke,” Adina Verson as “Rifkele” in “Indecent,” by Paula Vogel. Photo: Carol Rosegg.

Director Rebecca Taichman and playwright Paula Vogel are the dream team

Playwright Paula Vogel and director Rebecca Taichman share a long, fascinating history with the play that inspired “Indecent.” Vogel first read “God of Vengeance” in 1973 while a graduate student at Cornell University. Taichman — the granddaughter of a Yiddish poet — discovered the play in 1997 as a first-year student at the Yale School of Drama and wrote her thesis on the obscenity trial. In 2010, Taichman called Vogel to collaborate on a play about the trial. “It was like one Trekkie finding another,” Vogel told the Village Voice, describing their initial conversation. Their collaboration led to the creation of “Indecent,” which had its world premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre in 2015, followed by a production at the La Jolla Playhouse. In 2017, following a sold-out run off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre, “Indecent opened at the Cort Theatre on Broadway, winning two Tony Awards.

It’s a love letter to the theater

For a play about censorship and persecution, “Indecent” is astoundingly exuberant. That’s because it’s a celebration of the art of making theater, and it’s filled with joyous songs and dances. Violinist Lisa Gutkin (Grammy-winning member of the Klezmatics) and accordionist Aaron Halva co-wrote the klezmer-infused score, and choreographer David Dorfman earned a Lucille Lortel Award for his hypnotic dances. “Theater and the arts have been my spiritual daily bread from the first day I stumbled into a drama class at age 15,” playwright Paula Vogel said in a MetroFocus interview. “’Indecent’ is very much a love letter to the theater, a love letter to Yiddish culture and a plea to every audience member who sees it: please, please partake in the arts. The arts will see us through till our last day on earth.”

 Richard Topol, Mimi Lieber, Tom Nelis, Adina Verson, Katrina Lenk, Steven Rattazzi and Max Gordon Moore, the company of "Indecent," by Paula Vogel. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Richard Topol, Mimi Lieber, Tom Nelis, Adina Verson, Katrina Lenk, Steven Rattazzi and Max Gordon Moore, the company of “Indecent,” by Paula Vogel. Photo: Carol Rosegg.

#ArtMatters, immigration bans, #LoveIsLoveIsLove and other timely topics

“Indecent” was inspired by a play written over 100 years ago, but it couldn’t be more timely. The plight of immigrants, artistic censorship, homophobia and antisemitism, and the belief that #ArtMatters and #LoveIsLoveIsLove are the themes explored in “Indecent” — and the very topics we see in today’s headlines. “That’s why ‘Indecent’ is such a pertinent play today: because those subjects are subjects we’re dealing with as we speak around this table,” producer Daryl Roth said in a Charlie Rose interview that also included director Rebecca Taichman and actor Richard Topol. A passionate believer in stories that matter and the transformative power of theater, Roth has also produced the long-running hit musical “Kinky Boots,” Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize winner “How I Learned to Drive,” Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s “Caroline, or Change,” Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart,” and “Wiesenthal,” which aired on THIRTEEN’s Theater Close-Up series.

See “Indecent” on-air Tuesday, Jan. 28, at 10 p.m.

Top Image: The company of "Indecent," by Paula Vogel. Photo: Carol Rosegg.