Paula Vogel’s Indecent stokes the emotional fires on multiple levels, not the least of which is sheer anger—especially about the quashing of freedom of artistic expression. Anger about intolerance and bigotry. Anger that a gifted Yiddish playwright’s spirit was just about broken, that dark unrelenting forces sought to subjugate, to erase, the Jewish culture.
Yet Vogel’s one-act play with music, a co-production between Yale Repertory Theatre and La Jolla Playhouse, is constructed upon quiet, thoughtful reflection more than anger. It’s a sad, sensitive work created for the stage by Vogel and by director Rebecca Taichman that even in that sadness never loses sight of the resolve and life force of the Jewish people.
Right away, the narrative tells us that Indecent is a play about a play: Sholem Asch’s 1906 God of Vengeance, which affected and challenged audiences in Europe before coming to America and ultimately, in 1923, to Broadway where it was shut down and its cast charged with obscenity. The “obscenity” was the depiction of a lesbian relationship, a Jewish brothel and the renunciation and ill treatment of the Torah.
Indecent’s seven-person ensemble (plus three musicians, also immersed in the action) brings to life the staging of God of Vengeance, both in a Polish attic and on the (ahem) Great White Way. Yet in spite of the elaborate staging of and absorption in the lesbian lovers’ “Rain Scene” in God of Vengeance, it is Indecent’s offstage stories—those of embattled playwright Asch (Max Gordon Moore), of two actresses (Katrina Lenk and Adina Verson) in love, of immigrant stage manager Lemml (Richard Topol), the soul and conscience of the play—that reverberate.
Each cast member plays multiple roles, which can be distracting until you get used to it, and Vogel to some extent has stacked ending upon ending upon ending (albeit each of them is poetic and penetrating in its own way). Still, the constant presence of the musicians (Lisa Gutkin, Aaron Halva, Travis W. Hendrix) and the choreography by David Dorfman that doesn’t call undue attention to itself portray a microcosmic world where art thrived for its own sake. A people stood resolute amid torment and oppression, and sought to live life with joy.
Indecent runs through Dec. 10 at La Jolla Playhouse. $41-$80; lajollaplayhouse.org
Almost, Maine: Residents of a small New England town mysteriously fall in and out of love with the appearance of the Northern Lights. Written by John Cariani, it opens Nov. 27 at the OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.info
A Christmas Carol: The mean and miserly Ebenezer Scrooge gets visited by three ghosts and, well, you probably know the rest. Adapted to be a musical by Sean Murray for Cygnet Theatre, it opens Nov. 27 at the Old Town Theatre in Old Town.
Laugh Stories: San Diego playwright Michael Shames presents a 90-minute collection of comedic one-acts centered on a character named Gloria. It opens Nov. 27 at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center in downtown. splashstories.com
Orson Welles Presents… A Christmas Carol Radio Show: A live reenactment of the famous director’s 1939 radio broadcast of the Charles Dickens’ classic complete with Christmas carols and sound effects. Directed by Robin Pollock, it opens Nov. 27 at Lamplighters Community Theatre in La Mesa.
The Cherry Orchard: Anton Chekov’s classic play about an aristocratic Russian family who are forced to sell their family estate. Directed by Emilie Whelan, it opens for five performances Nov. 29 at the UCSD Sheila & Hughes Potiker Theatre in La Jolla.
Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights: In Gertrude Stein’s poetic reimagining of the Faust myth, an inventor sells his soul to the devil for electric light. Presented by the SDSU School of Theatre, it opens for five performances Dec. 2 at the Don Powell Theatre in the College Area.
End of the Rainbow : The Tony-nominated drama about the final days of Judy Garland that features some of her more beloved songs. Presented by Intrepid Theatre Company, it runs through Nov. 29 at the Lyceum Space Theatre in the Gaslamp. intrepidtheatre.org
Bright Half Life : The West Coast premiere of the dramedy about a lesbian couple told in snapshot scenes spanning 40 years. Written by Tanya Barfield, it plays through Nov. 29 at the Diversionary Theatre in Hillcrest. diversionary.org
The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence : The West Coast premiere of the time-jumping play about four Watsons (Sherlock Holmes’ assistant, the Jeopardy! super-computer, etc.) who become companions in the present day. Written by Madeleine George, it plays through Dec. 4 at the Moxie Theatre in Rolando.
The Oldest Boy : Two parents have to decide whether to let their three-year-old son go to India to become a Buddhist master. Combining theatre, puppetry and dance, it runs through Dec. 6 at the Lyceum Theatre in Downtown. sdrep.org
Indecent : This world premiere musical centers on the controversial ’20s debut of the Broadway play, God of Vengeance. Written by Paula Vogel, it plays through Dec. 10 at the La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
Vonya and Sonia and Masha and Spike : Things get heated in this dramedy about two middle-aged stepsisters dealing with a sudden visit from their other sister and her new boy-toy. Written by Christopher Durang, it runs through Dec. 20 at the Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas : Now in its 18th year, this holiday classic tells the musical tale of a green grump who plans to ruin the holidays for the town of Whoville. Directed by James Vásquez, it plays through Dec. 26 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org