Review: Indecent (Victory Gardens Theater)

| October 2, 2018

Kiah Stern and Catherine LeFrere star in Indecent, Victory Gardens Theater




Written by Paula Vogel  
VG Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
thru Nov 4  |  tix: $29-$77  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Life changing


Cindy Gold, Catherine LeFrere, Noah LaPook, David Darlow and Kiah Stern star in Indecent

Victory Gardens Theater presents

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

A troupe of actors comes to America not long after the turn of the century. Strings have been pulled to get them past Ellis Island. They’re endlessly optimistic in this new country of possibilities, stage lights in their eyes and Broadway in their hearts. Classic “you’re gonna be a star, kid” narrative, right?

David Darlow, Cindy Gold, Catherine LeFrere, Kiah Stern and Andrew White star in IndecentNot quite.

In Paula Vogels Indecent, the actors are Jewish, and the play they bring to the States is a tale of lesbian love set in a brothel that ends with the desecration of the Torah, the most sacred of Hebrew documents. For a while, the play is a hit. Until it isn’t, and everyone is arrested and put on trial.

Gary Griffin has become synonymous with bringing edgy Broadway hits to Chicago. 2016’s Hand to God was regarded by some as better than the original New York production, and last year’s Fun Home brought back the intimacy of Broadway’s in-the-round interpretation. Vogel’s latest was not only nominated for Tony Awards, but was screened nationwide on PBS. Just as with Hand to God and Fun Home, Griffin strikes the precise balance between edgy and heartwrenching, presenting a story of underdogs who stay precisely that, thanks to the prejudice that still reigns supreme in contemporary society.

Using music, choreography and a wide variety of dialects – sometimes the original Yiddish – Vogel brings her trademark brutal honesty to the story of writer Sholem Asch (Noah LaPook) and the only play he ever penned, God of Vengeance. His peers and benefactors decry him for the play’s disrespect of God, for its portrayal of Jews as anything less than moral human beings. After all, even in Poland in 1906, the deck is already stacked against them. But Sholem persists: Jews want to see themselves portrayed as complex individuals, who might fall in love with the “wrong” people and question their culture. It’s a fight that eager stage manager Lemml (Benjamin Magnuson) takes over when Asch, too traumatized by the aftermath of pogroms in his native country, becomes a near-recluse, leaving his troupe to fend for themselves.

Benjamin Magnuson, Noah LaPook, Andrew White, David Darlow and Matt Deitchman star in Indecent, Victory GardensNoah LaPook and Kiah Stern star in Indecent, Victory Gardens TheaterKiah Stern, Catherine LeFrere and Benjamin Magnuson star in Indecent, Victory Gardens Theater

What’s most heartbreaking about Indecent, and God of Vengeance along with it, is its persisting relevance. In 2018, the Vice-President of the United States is proudly homophobic, previously supporting gay conversion therapy in his native Indiana. Queer representation is nowhere near what it should be, and controversial when it does exist. This past summer, the heist movie Ocean’s 8 had two lead characters, both female, who hinted at a past relationship but never went further than that because, well, it’s not an art-house film, is it? Vogel’s frustration is apparent in every syllable, English or Yiddish.

But just as prevalent is Vogel’s joy in her characters, the scrappy performers, musicians, playwright and stage manager who believe in the story they stage. So much that the two actresses playing the lovers (Catherine LeFrere and Kiah Stern) fall in love in real life. So much that upon hearing the very first reading of the play, recent immigrant Lemml is bowled over: “This is theater? It’s wonderful!” So much that even when the actors are isolated in a Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland, and then in a concentration camp, staging one act of God of Vengeance at a time in exchange for extra food, the audience can’t help but feel a little bit of hope.

Hope: Vogel’s genius is contained in her ability to bring it to every story, whether it’s one of an ex-schoolteacher watching her brother die of AIDS or a child rape victim learning to drive. The characters in Indecent persist, making the ultimate sacrifices to experience the tiny moments of hope they feel as their characters dance in the rain without a care in the world, imagining a society where they can exist without punishment. It’s a battle many are still fighting, but even in the midst, there are moments of pure celebration. A flawless blend of unique staging and intelligent writing, Indecent is one of the year’s best.

Rating: ★★★★

Indecent continues through November 4th at Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays 3pm & 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $29-$77, and are available by phone (773-871-3000) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at (Running time: 100 minutes without intermission)

N. LaPook, C. LeFrere, A. White, C. Gold, K. Stern, D. Darlow and E. Dobias star in Indecent

Photos by Michael Brosilow 




David Darlow (The Elder: Otto), Matt Deitchman (Accordion, Multi-instrumentalist, Music Director), Elleon Dobias (Violin), Cindy Gold (The Elder: Vera, Dialect Coach), Noah LaPook (The Ingenue: Avram), Catherine LaFrere (The Middle: Halena), Benjamin Manguson (The Stage Manager: Lemml), Kiah Stern (The Ingenue: Chana), Andrew White (The Middle: Mendel)

behind the scenes

Gary Griffin (director), Jeffrey D. Kmiec (scenic design), Mara Blumenfeld (costume design), Keith Parham (lighting design), Christopher M. LaPorte (sound design), Eleanor Kahn (props design), Katie Spelman (choreographer), Kristina Fluty (intimacy director), Stephan Mazurek (projection design), Dr. Alvin Goldfarb (Yiddish consultant), Skyler Gray (dramaturg), Majel Cuza (production manager), Katie Klemme (production stage manager), Michael Brosilow (photos)

Victory Garden Theater's "Indecent" by Paula Vogel, directed by Gary Griffin. (photo by Michael Brosilow)


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Biograph Theatre, Lauren Emily Whalen, Victory Gardens

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