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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Mrs K and I made our first visit to Phoenix Theatre’s stylish new venue on Illinois St. for INDECENT, Paula Vogel’s fine examination of the events surrounding the early 20th century play God of Vengeance. Written by Sholem Asch in 1906 for the Yiddish Theatre, God of Vengeance caused a great stir in the American theatre when it was produced on Broadway, as it contained lesbian characters and a lesbian kiss. The reaction to this kissing scene included arrest for the actors and producers for having presented such “indecent” material on the stage.

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Nick Jenkins (front) takes the role of Lemml in this scene from Phoenix Theatre’s production of “INDECENT”.

Ms. Vogel’s play recounts many steps in the Asch play’s creation and production, with scenes from “Warsaw, 1906 to Bridgeport, Connecticut 1950s and everywhere in between.” Her presentation style for the play is unique and effective. Set on a bare bones but highly functional scenic design (by Phil Male), the scenes tumble out in a continuous roll, aided by a myriad of costume pieces (the work of Brittany Kulger), colorful sectional lighting (by Jeffrey Martin) and narrative text projections (Ben Dobler) which alert the audience to everything from what language is being spoken, to locations, to lyrics of songs that are being sung. The smooth action balances the deep conflicts in the scenes, which show the playwright Asch’s journey with his work from first rejections, through international successes, and on to the Broadway debut – where his originally beautiful and sensitive writings were modified into a coarser depiction of a stark and selfish underworld for this most commercial of stages.

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Playwright Sholem Asch and his wife are portrayed by John Goodson and Courtney Spivak in this scene from Phoenix Theatre’s production of “INDECENT”.

Director Martha Jacobs sets her very talented cast on a course that enables them to give their audience an emotionally honest, richly honed rendering of this evocative account. Veteran Phoenix actors Mark Goetzinger, Jolene Moffatt, John Goodson, and Bill Simmons are joined by Phoenix debuters Abby Lee, Courtney Spivak and Nick Jenkins to form a sensational ensemble. This skilled group flawlessly tells its story with an amazing range of characterizations which are a marvel to experience.

The several songs which are an important part of the action of the play are credited to Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva.

Bottomline: This is a fantastic offering by the new Phoenix. All aspects of theatre are set down in a beautiful and creative manner, especially the performances of this choice group of actors and actresses. And we learn of a mostly forgotten chapter in American and Yiddish theatre history, which applies currently to our own social evolution.

Paula Vogel’s INDECENT only continues through this weekend, closing with a Sunday matinee on June 8th. For information and reservations go to http://www.phoenixtheatre.org or call the box office at 317.635.7529.

  • – Uncredited photos are from Phoenix Theatre’s FB page.
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