Review: INDECENT at Victory Gardens Theater

Review: INDECENT at Victory Gardens Theater

Pictured: Noah LaPook and Kiah Stern. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

By Bec Willett

You’ve probably heard of INDECENT given its Broadway run last year. Authored by the award-winning, Tony-nominated, all-around badass Paula Vogel, Victory Gardens has had the fortune to garner the first Chicago production.

At its core, INDECENT is actually a play about another play – GOD OF VENGEANCE by Polish-Jewish writer Sholem Asch. Asch’s play is about discrimination, religion and love, especially noted for its love scene between two women. After being performed across Europe in the early 1900s, it was only when it landed in America that it was shut down by the authorities, taken to court for obscenity, and relegated as indecent. Vogel’s examination of this play’s journey – through wars, immigration, and poverty – shows us that even one hundred years in the future the unjust treatment of those with less power by those with more hasn’t really changed at all.

Weaving its way through multiple decades, locations and theatrical styles, INDECENT is written with the complexity only possible by a master of the craft. Such a play necessitates a director of equal caliber: Gary Griffin proves himself that person. His stunning use of space and stage pictures linked seamlessly by equally well-crafted transitions guides us through this densely layered piece with ease. The direction and writing treads a path between humor and despair, the platonic and sensual. This is especially furthered by Keith Parham’s lighting design, in which warm tones lead us from one place to the next. A bifurcated motif appears multiple times in which one side is sculpted in softer times, while the other casts a long, harsh shadow to remind us that this dark past is still alive in our hearts today.

While the design and direction have harnessed the text, it’s somewhat unfortunate that the actors still seem to be grappling with its complexities – especially on a technical level. It’s understandable given that this is not an organic, feel-out-your-blocking type work but rather an intricate machine of projections, music, songs, lights, and movement that vacillate between vaudevillian musical numbers, tableaus and intense, realistic scenes. With such experienced and talented performers I have no doubts that after a few more runs that – just as with the direction and design – they will be able to consistently connect with the heart of the piece and come into full bloom.

Even with some less than refined performances, the strength of direction and design in Victory Gardens’ INDECENT showcases why Vogel is recognized and applauded as a master of her craft.

INDECENT runs through November 4th. For more information visit victorygardens.org.

About author

Bec Willett

Bec Willett is an Australian, Chicago-based director, designer, educator, and writer. She has worked on projects with an array of Chicago theater companies, including 20% Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, City Lit, Dandelion Theatre, Prologue Theatre, and Waltzing Mechanics. To find out more about her work and upcoming projects, please visit becwillett.com.

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