Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
Indecent is based on the true story of a Polish/Yiddish theatre company during the early twentieth century pogroms that paved the way for the Holocaust. The troupe's 1906 production of a new play, Sholem Asch's The God of Vengeance, was highly controversial for its time, depicting a Jewish brothel as well as lesbian love. With violent anti-semitism already on the rise, the play was divisive, especially among Jews who feared that any negative depictions of their community would stoke the flames of persecution. But the play was a success among Yiddish audiences, touring for many years to great acclaim throughout Poland, Germany, and Russia. When it finally reached Broadway in 1923, it was shut down for obscenity–not because it featured a brothel, but because it depicted two women kissing. The disappointed troupe was forced to return to an increasingly dangerous Poland from which they would find no escape. Although it remained divisive, The God of Vengeance became a canon of Yiddish theatre and was famously performed in secret in the basements and attics of the Polish ghettos in defiance of the Nazi regime.
Indecent depicts anti-semitism, the understandable reluctance of oppressed people to engage with self-critical works, the hypocrisy of self-proclaimed moralists, and the plight of asylum seekers facing barriers to emigration despite the imminent threat of death. The play is a timely reminder of the persistence of religious and ethnic persecution as well as the consequences of failing to learn from history. (In an ironic coda, Sholem Asch himself was forced to leave the United States in 1952 when he was targeted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.)
Indecent's cast is a strong and cohesive ensemble. Special mention should go to Jake Staley as Lemml, the tailor turned stage manager who attempts to assimilate under the Americanized name "Lou" while failing dismally in his attempts to learn English. As the character who draws the audience into the story, Staley makes Lemml astonishingly real. Wilam Fleming, too, is a standout, especially in a lightning-fast montage in which he pleads for refuge in increasing desperation–in multiple languages–at the gates of Warsaw's unresponsive embassies.
Indecent runs through November 20, 2023, at SST Studios, 4340 S. Valley View Blvd., Las Vegas NV. Performances are Friday, Saturday, and Monday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets ($35-40) and information, please visit go to apublicfit.org.