by Elisa Lichtenbaum
When Indecent opened on Broadway earlier this year, it was hailed by critics as “captivating and gorgeous” (Time Out New York) and “a heart-stirring reminder of the power of art” (New York Daily News). The New York Times Critics’ Pick – winner of two 2017 Tony Awards — airs on Great Performances Friday, November 17 at 9 p.m. as part of Broadway’s Best on PBS, a line-up of theater specials airing Friday nights through December.
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.
Indecent: Compelling Theater, Must-See TV
1) 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.
2) It Features Rising Star Katrina Lenk
While Indecent is notable for its impressive ensemble, it’s impossible to ignore the star power of 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 superfan, you’re in luck: you can catch her on Broadway as Dina, a sultry café owner, in The Band’s Visit, a new musical starring Tony Shalhoub. The New York Times declared Lenk’s portayal of Dina “a star-making performance” in its rave review, The New Yorker called her “radiant,” and The Huffington Post predicted that she’ll be a Best Actress frontrunner come Tony Awards season.
3) 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.
4) 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.”
5) #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 anti-Semitism, 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 or online anywhere you watch PBS programming, including PBS.org and PBS apps for iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Chromecast. Visit pbs.org/greatperformances for in-depth features about She Loves Me and other Great Performances programs, and to watch previews and programs online. Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #BroadwayonPBS.
See Indecent on-air or online anywhere you watch PBS programming, including PBS.org and PBS apps for iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Chromecast. Visit the Broadway’s Best on PBS collection for in-depth features about Indecent and other GREAT PERFORMANCES programs, and to watch previews and programs online. Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #BroadwayonPBS.
ELISA LICHTENBAUM | @ElisaVonTap