Finding Balance

Review of Indecent at Seattle Rep.

Written by Franklin High School student, Savannah Blackwell.

Indecent Final 10 m7ttgu

*Please note, this review includes spoilers

A show that beautifully demonstrates how Jews (and all people, really) are multidimensional, individual, human beings. Indecent, by Paula Vogel and directed by Sheila Daniels (with the Seattle Rep), weaves the complexities of one’s identity in a powerful hour and forty-five-minute show. Indecent is a play within a play. It follows the playwright, Sholem Asch, and his actors’ process in performing the controversial play, God of Vengeance. In the show, props, light, words, projection, and music come together to create a full and complete story. It was a privilege to witness their interpretation of intersectionalities all humans carry and the commonalities of them with others. We see two lesbian Jews, a playwright with “taboo” ideas, and a Black Jew all in one show. These are identities we rarely see, but they’re very real.

All of the music in the show was played live on stage. From the accordion to the violin, the musical influence gave the show a sense of home and community. This gave an opportunity for the audience to step into the world the characters were living in (it was also just really cool!). Indecent also incorporated Yiddish, a language many Jews spoke during the 20th-century, into the show. There would be projections that showed when a language switch would come! The actors would often adjust their accents or body language when speaking different languages. This helped add more context to the setting and create a special dimension to the characters and the storyline I’ve never seen in a show before.

God of Vengeance, the play Indecent was based around, told a new narrative about Jews in early 20th-century Eastern Europe. It followed the love between two Jewish women: the daughter of a priest, Chana Mandelbaum, and the other, a prostitute, Halina Cygansky. Creating plays of this subject matter was very rare at this time, especially with qualities of intersectionality among one’s identity. However, we learn in Indecent, the play was extremely successful all throughout Europe and, later got the opportunity to perform on Broadway in America. Indecent explored the alterations made once God of Vengeance arrived in America. Not only was the play itself required to be translated to English, it was cut and censored for American audiences. After its first night on the Broadway stage, all the actors got arrested for performing an Indecent act. The love shared between the two women while being Jewish was apparently too much for America at that time.

I have a great appreciation for the queer presence within this production. Daniels found a way to highlight the love between two women without making it the main focus of the show. It normalized lesbian love! Seeing the organic love between the two reminded me of the beauty of love and how it transcends any barrier the world and/or one’s community tries to put on you.

All throughout the show, "The Rain Scene" was mentioned. Characters would talk about its importance, power, and controversy, of course. As the show went on, the audience had only heard of "The Rain Scene," but we had yet to see it. Towards the end of the play, the Holocaust had been introduced. To find light in their situation, the actors from God of Vengeance used all they could to put on a show. So finally, we (the audience) got to see “The Rain Scene” performed by Halina Cygansky and Chana Mandelbaum from God of Vengeance. It was a beautiful love-filled performance by Cheyenne Casebier and Andi Alhadeff. Not only was there ACTUAL RAIN POURING ONTO THE STAGE, but it fulfilled the build-up they’d created all throughout the show. It was heartfelt in every possible way; a lovely balance of hope and sorrow. This theme, however, carried throughout the entire show.

All and all, I really enjoyed this compelling show from Seattle Rep! I highly recommend it. It can be a bit hard to follow at times, but by the end, it should all come together.

Lead photo credit: Jamie Maschler on the accordion, Kate Olson on the tin whistle, and Alexander Sovronsky on the mandolin in Indecent. Photo by Bronwen Houck.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

This review was written as part of an Arts Criticism 101 workshop at Franklin High School in Ms. Geffner's 11th grade Language Arts classes, taught by Press Corps teaching artist Becs Richards.

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