‘Indecent’ is a powerful play about a Yiddish scandal: Playing at the Timms Theatre in YEG until Dec. 9

INDECENT is playing at the TIMMS Theatre for the Arts until Dec. 9. The Dec. 7 matinee includes a talkback post show with the cast and crew. Production photo supplied.

by Deborah Shatz

(AJNews) – On December 2, with the University of Alberta Drama Department, Temple Beth Ora co-hosted an incredible gala evening of theatre, live klezmer music and community support at the Timms Theatre. The theatre was full, and the Jewish community of Edmonton came out in droves to support TBO. The real star of the evening was without question the remarkable performance by the U of A Drama Department of the Pulitzer award winning play Indecent.

If you missed the performance on December 2, be sure to attend one of the other dates. The play is at the Timms Centre for the Arts until December 9 and it is well worth the price of admission.

Indecent, written in 2017 by playwright Paula Vogel, tells the true story behind the production of God of Vengeance, a Yiddish play that was banned in New York in 1923 for depicting a lesbian relationship. It also covers the obscenity trial against the actors that followed and their determination at great risk to themselves to continue performing the play.

Indecent is the thesis project of University of Alberta MFA directing candidate Ben Smith and the troupe features his fellow U of A students along with TBO member actor Elena Porter and actor and former Edmontonian Dov Mickelson, performing multiple roles. Three talented Klezmer musicians are also featured prominently in the production.

The play was staged beautifully, the choreography was precise, the music was magical, the chemistry between the ingenues Megan Holt and Aidan Laudersmith was palpable and their harmonies were gorgeous. The Yiddish was delightful and familiar. The timing in the play was brilliant, with the last scene of the play repeating over and over again – with locations appearing in print to depict the passage of time and venues.

Mickelson, a community favourite, commanded the stage throughout the play, reprising the multiple roles he performed in the Toronto production, expanded to include his magnificent role of lead actor  Rudolph Schildkraut. He demonstrated an incredible range on stage, nuanced and mild, dismissive and arrogant, loud and forthright and nimble and energetic – each as required in the moment. His connections were seamless and powerful.

The play, Indecent, is many things: a portrait of Yiddish playwright Sholem Asch; a love story; a timely look at homophobia, artistic freedom and censorship, the power of the theatre, and a tale of the Jewish diaspora and the Holocaust.

The piece resonates deeply today in the aftermath of the Hamas brutal invasion of Israel on October 7, the ensuing war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas and the rising world-wide climate of antisemitism. North American diaspora Jews are feeling isolated, alone and “other” – more than ever before. Yet this play is a proud celebration of Yiddish storytelling.

It tells the story of Sholem Asch’s provocative work and the consequences of internal conflicts and external threats. The play is intense, gripping, powerful and painful; yet it is also lovely and uplifting. We understand the ‘blink in time” during which the play takes place, from 1906 through to the 1950s. These performances are so rich and layered and the music is so beautiful and transformative that we are captivated by the love story and the determination of the troupe for self-expression. Even though we know what happens next.

Director Ben Smith told CKUA that “it’s a real gift to be directing this show.” He said that before proposing it to the University of Alberta as his thesis project he wrote to playwright Paula Vogel about whether it was appropriate for him – as someone who isn’t Jewish – to be staging the play. With her blessing and with help from the Edmonton Jewish community through cultural advisor Temple Beth Ora Rabbah Gila Caine, the project came alive. He said, “Really the University of Alberta and the Edmonton community has embraced bringing it to fruition. It’s been really incredible. The BFA acting class has been incredible and we brought in some amazing musicians from Toronto to be in the production’s klezmer band.”

Smith said that he had ongoing correspondences about the project but six days before they began rehearsing the play, on Oct. 7, the world changed. “It’s haunting to think of the context that changed since I began planning the project,” he said. “Never could I have imagined how important this play would be in this moment of time.

“This play makes so many significant contributions to right now in the present moment. While using the frame of a Jewish theatre troupe playing around the world, the play is about the freedom to love who you want, the freedom of expression, censorship, the impact of culture and religion, and of course storytelling and theatre in itself.”

“The play really asks us: can the forces of love, win over the forces of hate,” he added.

One hundred years later and the play is still pushing boundaries, explains Smith. When he was looking for a play to stage, Indecent was making headlines in the US. A high school in Florida was actually prohibited from performing the play by Florida’s Don’t Say Gay Bill.

“So here we are, telling a play ‘Indecent’ about ‘God of Vengeance’ – a play that was censored in 1923. So, in 2023, a play about censorship is being censored…We have so much work to do.”

The family connections within the play are strong and within the community they are also strong. Several descendants of Sholem Asch have special connections to Edmonton and to the U of A. that make performing the play here even more special.

Actor Dov Mickelson, is a Talmud Torah, Camp BB-Riback alum and also has special connections with the Edmonton Jewish community.

“I love this play so much,” said Mickelson. “This is the third time I’ve done it but my first time playing the elder character.” Mickelson, who lives in Toronto, plays a total of five different roles in the show.

“I’d heard they were looking for professional actors who were Jewish to act/mentor with the BFA students so I submitted my name and talked with the director who’s doing his MFA thesis on this show and felt it was a perfect fit. The bonus is I get to spend seven weeks with my dad,” he said.

“It’s a real labour of love.”

Indecent is playing at the Timms Centre for the Arts until December 9. Click here for tickets.

Be the first to comment on "‘Indecent’ is a powerful play about a Yiddish scandal: Playing at the Timms Theatre in YEG until Dec. 9"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.