‘Indecent’: ‘Haunting’ new play marks Pulitzer winner Paula Vogel’s Broadway debut

In 1923, Yiddish play “The God of Vengeance” bowed on Broadway and outraged audiences with its depiction of blasphemy and the purported first lesbian kiss in American theatrical history. Almost a century later, Pulitzer Prize winning dramatist Paula Vogel (“How I Learned to Drive”) unearths the oft-forgotten story of the development of the play and the life of its scribe Sholem Asch in her new drama “Indecent,” which opened on April 18 at the Cort Theatre.

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The meta-theatrical “Indecent,” which marks the long-awaited Broadway debut of the esteemed Vogel, received mostly positive reviews from critics. Jeremy Gerard (Deadline) declares the play “a work of all-encompassing art” and “an exhilarating ride you’ll never forget.” Linda Winer (Newsday) similarly praises the “extraordinary” and “gripping” show that’s full of “so much rich emotion about history and the theater,” with particularly kudos to the “earthy, sensual” Katrina Lenk.

Other critics found fault with some elements of the production. Although Ben Brantley (New York Times) writes fondly about much of the show, applauding the “virtuous, sturdily assembled, informative” “heartfelt ode and elegy to a landmark of modern drama” and the “tight ensemble of chameleon performers,” he quibbles that Vogel’s writing is “deflatingly earnest in its dialogue and timeline exposition,” and “may not inhabit the lightning-struck stratosphere of the play it portrays.” Much harsher, Jesse Green (Vulture) finds “Indecent” the “least convincing” of the history plays to debut on Broadway this season, remarking that the play’s transfer from Off-Broadway to Broadway “makes its problems more obvious,” which include Vogel’s “tired jokes” and “scene-setting shortcuts.” Even so, Green admires the “imaginative staging” of director Rebecca Taichman, which features “haunting touches and clever perspectival high jinks.”

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In light of the nearly universal acclaim it received, its timely commentary on the importance of the arts, and the pedigree of its dramatist, “Indecent” should easily make the competitive Best Play line up at the Tony Awards. The play’s positive reception should also help carry its director Taichman to a nomination, even though she doesn’t have the immediate name recognition of some of the other contenders, which include past Tony winners Bartlett Sher (“Oslo”), Daniel Sullivan (“The Little Foxes”) and Sam Gold (“The Glass Menagerie,” “A Doll’s House, Part 2”).

Considering the ensemble nature of the show, with seven actors portraying approximately forty different roles, the Tony nominating committee may have difficulty singling out anyone in particular for recognition. Should the small voting group rally behind one cast member, it could very well be Lenk, who not only received warm notices for her performance here, but also earned great reviews for her leading role in the critically-acclaimed Off-Broadway musical “The Band’s Visit” in the Fall.

Stylistically, the show’s lighting designer Christopher Akerlind seems the most likely to reap a nomination next month because of its critical response and his strong Tony track record of six nominations and one win for “The Light in the Piazza.” Costume designer Emily Rebholz may be on course to her first Tony nomination, for not only did she just recently receive a Lucille Lortel bid for her work on “Indecent” for its Off-Broadway engagement, but she also designed the costumes for this season’s smash-hit musical “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Predict the Tony Awards nominees now; change them until May 2

Be sure to make your Tony Awards predictions. Weigh in now with your picks so that Broadway insiders can see how their shows and performers are faring in our Tony odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on May 2. And join in the fierce debate over the 2017 Tony Awards taking place right now in our theater forums.

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