Paula Vogel’s play is ‘joyous, beautiful and poignant’
Paula Vogel’s “joyous, beautiful and poignant” play is coming to the ADC theatre this week, bringing the true tale of Polish-Jewish playwright Sholem Asch to life. We chatted with director Elizabeth Laurence and cast members Jake Burke and Dominika Wiatrowska.
The play centres around Asch’s play, ‘The God of Vengeance’, as Dominika describes it as “a story about a play”. ‘Indecent’ follows a theatre troop performing this play “from its first reading in a small Warsaw flat till its opening night on Broadway and beyond”. Asch’s play was clearly unique in that it was “ahead of its time” on account of its portrayals of lesbian relationships. Jake also comments on “its depiction of the impious Yekel” and how this caused the play to “face resistance from different fronts”. As the play is performed around Europe and America, “we follow the problems that came with its move to Broadway as well as the wider circumstances that affected communities at the time”.
‘Indecent’ is clearly a production incredibly close to the cast and crew’s hearts, particularly to director Elizabeth, who says: “‘Indecent’ begins with the projected lines “From the ashes they rise”. It is impossible to fully reckon with the scale of the loss of the Shoah in art; to attempt to do so would be foolish. Instead, Vogel focuses intently on the real-life stories of Jewish people who lived through this period of history. Through meticulous research into the lives, history and culture of Jewish people in this period she brings a dead world back to life in a spellbinding process that feels close to alchemy.”
She also goes on to explain how her vision truly vivifies and enlightens a history that was previously hidden, letting us experience “the heyday of Yiddish Theatre, the intensity of Klezmer music, and the bewilderment of leaving one’s home country”. This makes up part of a greater mission of the show of “remembering, preserving and reliving forgotten corners of history”. Elizabeth highlights “the ongoing imperative to reclaim what was once taken away”, the “mission of countless Jewish people reckoning with their own histories”.
And indeed, Jake comments on the modern-day relevance of this play, as ideas “concerning immigration and assimilation are still pertinent to audiences today”. What he also finds “incredibly refreshing” is “the insight the play offers into the Jewish lived experience of the early 20th century and the way these communities lived and created as artists, rather than focusing solely on tragedy”. This has also allowed conversations to open up about “Jewish culture in Eastern Europe and beyond, including music, literature, history, philosophies, and traditions of these communities which are not often shown in mainstream media – especially the klezmer dancing!”.
The joy of Jewish culture is one that pervades the play and seeps into rehearsals too, as Dominika comments on the “wonderful time” she’s had working with “the loveliest group of people who have truly poured their heart into this project”. She loves to see how “devoted” cast and crew members treat themes that need “a lot of care and respect” as well as “the fragments of the play that are in Yiddish, which we don’t often get a chance to hear on the ADC stage”.
And this visibility of and exposure to Yiddish culture is what Jake highlights as the “joyous celebration of a culture that very nearly could have been lost” and “needs to be preserved”. He says that “image” is a key theme of the play, as “concerns about preserving a ‘pure’ image of Jewish people are frequent throughout the play”, as “Peretz’s belief that Jewish literature must present Jewish characters as the heroes of stories is contrasted with Asch’s view that Jewish people must be presented as real people not as paragons”.
‘Indecent’ promises not only to be an incredible expression of joy and revival of a culture, but is also an incredibly important story about “theatre-making, the hardship of assimilation in a new country and of course love!”. The play is rich with significance and passion and thus beckons for the audience to enter and actively absorb a past that is revived in a unique production on the ADC stage.
Indecent is showing on the 31st of January – 4th of February at 7:45 pm at the ADC Theatre. Book your tickets here.
Feature image credit: Miranda Crawford