Monday, December 31, 2018

"Indecent" at Arena Stage

"Indecent" has a play within a play. The pieces times and actors shift. The play within is a real play, originally written in Yiddish and performed throughout Europe, that depicts a sex worker falling in love with the daughter of the brothel owner to explore themes of patriarchy and those who claim to represent religion. The play movies to the US in the early 1900's and does well enough to move to Broadway, where the cast is promptly arrested and prosecuted for indecency. 
The cast of "Indecent" is arranged based on age, such that characters who age shift from one actor to another, and one actress shifts her clothes mid-scene and alters her posture to immediately become a different character. While the play starts at the turn of the century, it gets to the 1950's where we can see the cycle repeat with McCarthyism. 
It's always hard to say how much a play speaks to a time versus the audience focusing on bits that seem timely. Nonetheless a look at what writing and representing your people, the breadth of them means, how art can bring hope in times of struggle, and how sometimes translation in the wrong hands can alter something beyond it's meaning are all things that seem apt right now. Because of the time periods it depicts, there is some antisemitism, most of it occurring off stage but referenced. And some of the cast members return to Poland during World War II and so they wear yellow stars as they perform the play in an attic. 
There were some times the characters spoke and the translations were projected in super titles, other times the actors spoke English - with shifting accents and facility - while the super titles alerted the audience that the conversation was in English, Yiddish, or something else. 
All of these things worked, the show in essence does a good job of teaching you how to watch it. The cast and the musicians who were onstage for much of it, moving among and with the actors, were fabulous. 
The stage design was also great. It is a play that isn't easy to watch but also doesn't revel in the struggle. It is focused on the enduring nature of art even as our own relationship with a piece of it changes. The play closed at Arena Sunday, but the Broadway version was filmed for WETA and is also available through Broadway HD.