24May

“Can You Forgive Her?” and “Indecent”: Two Vineyard Theatre Productions Worth Seeing

Every now and then a play comes along and grabs your heart. One did recently, and it happens to be one of the two Vineyard Theatre productions on in NYC.

First, let me tell you about the play playing at the Vineyard right now; then I’ll tell you about their little play that recently took to Broadway. That is the one that took my soul and ran away with it.

This past weekend, I spent an hour and forty minutes in the dark Vineyard Theatre, next to Amy Schumer, I mustadd, but that is besides the point. But it is also the point. Schumer, I believe, was seeing “Can You Forgive Her?” to support her friend, Amber Tamblyn, a young actress I know very well from her work in film. The show is written by a woman and is very much about women, even though there are a few men in the play (the cast is 50/50 split in terms of gender). The point is also that Schumer writes and stars in most of her own work. She is ground-breaking and she’s funny. Both are words I’d actually use to describe this production. I was eager to see Gionfriddo’s new production, her follow up to “Becky Shaw” and “Rapture”. She has been a finalist for two Pulitzer Prizes for her work.

Can You Forgive Her?” is interesting in that the play was actually inspired in part by the socio-economic dilemmas faced by the women in English author Anthony Trollope’s eponymous Victorian novel of 1864-65. It’s a modern day dark comedy that focuses on similar issues of romance and dysfunction. Directed by Peter Dubois, the play carefully weaves together pieces of the past and present through farce and character interaction.

Tamblyn plays Miranda, a young woman who is on the run from a date gone wrong (and now he’s out to kill her!). It’s the night of Halloween, so scared, she runs away to a couple, Tanya and Graham, two people she met at a bar that night. She’s in debt and is a bit of a train wreck. Graham, who takes her as a prostitute, is recovering from his mother’s death, and Tanya is trying to make ends meet to raise her young child, so the three carry their own baggage. The house is full of boxes of Grahams’ mother’s writings, stacked up high in the living room, and the ghost of Graham’s mother looms over their heads as a result. Miranda’s boyfriend eventually joins the chaos near the end of the play. He doesn’t necessarily help the situation but he definitely moves the plot forward.

Their interactions take place over the course of one night. Each character’s baggage collectively adds up and ultimately leads in an explosion of words and actions. Miranda also has a bizarre attachment to David, who is married; Graham can’t let go of his dead mother, but he is hesitant to read any of the writings she left behind; Tanya is trying to make the most of the situation and is the glue keeping them altogether; David can’t let go of his wife, or his girlfriend. There’s a lot of disfunction between this small cast of characters.

The results are funny and jarring at the same time. Tamblyn, making her NY stage debut, is very good at a playing a self-absorbed woman. Ella Dershowitz plays Tanya, an honest young woman who wants a better life for herself and her child. Darren Pettie plays Graham, who seems complacent yet dissatisfied at the same time. The cast is rounded out by Eshan Bay as the would be killer, Sateesh, and Frank Wood as David, Miranda’s boyfriend.

With Gionfriddo’s snappy and witty dialogue, the play, which is an hour and thirty-five minutes, moves quickly. There are plot devices that aren’t fully recognized. For example, I wish Tanya’s obsession with a book about women and money had been taken one step further and that her character’s frustration had been more flushed out, but the playwright had a lot of characters to deal with in a short amount of time.

indecent“Indecent was written by Paula Vogel and directed by Rebecca Taichman and is playing over at the Cort Theatre on BroadwayIt’s a play about the fate of Jewish people in the earlier part of the 20th century through the Holocaust, but it’s much more than that. It’s about the struggle of the Jews during this time, much of which is relatable due to the highly charged political times we are living in.

The story revolves around a Yiddish play called “God of Vengeance,” a work by Sholem Asch that caused a scandal when it was produced on Broadway in 1923 because it was about a Jewish family that built a business from a brothel they operated in their basement, as well  as  a forbidden lesbian romance. In reality, the play had its premiere in German translation at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin, and within months it had been produced in Russian in Moscow, and in Yiddish in both New York and Chicago. Tablet wrote a terrific article about the this forbidden kiss and the controversial play “Indecent” was based on, which both Vogel and Taichman stumbled up many years ago and were both enamored with. It was fate that these two women came together to see that the rest of the world learned about it, and I hope that they both continue to receive many accolades for their hard work.

On stage, we see see the public reaction to the play, starting in Warsaw in 1906, as groups of Yiddish actors perform the play in different parts of Europe. The play goes in and out of time, through music and dance, and it has a very surreal feeling of beauty and imminent threat intertwined as Jewish lives were in danger. The cast includes a troupe of skilled actors including Katrina Lenk, Adina Verson, Mimi Lieber, Max Gordon Moore, Tom Nelis, Steven Rattazzi, and Richard Topol.

The plot is complicated and the jumps of time are a lot to keep up with, but Taichman does a great job of making sure the audience keeps up, using projections in several languages to notify jumps in time. Vogel sprinkled in Klezmer music and dance scenes throughout the play, giving it a very “hamish” feeling. Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva composed the music and actually perform as musicians in the play, and the are brilliant.

When the characters are ultimately captured by the Nazis at the play’s end, there is an immense feeling of loss and the actors capture the sadness and project it onto the audience. As I watched the controversial love scene play out in the rain at the play’s end, with Torah scrolls in the scene, my heart felt empty, knowing that the loss of six million lives soon followed.

“Indecent” is a heroic, important play. I hope that everyone gets a chance to see it.

Disclosure: I was provided with tickets to “Can You Forgive Her?” to facilitate this review but all opinions are my own. I did not receive complimentary tickets to see “Indecent”.

 

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