UNCSA presents "Indecent" by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel

UNCSA presents “Indecent” by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel for two weekends beginning Oct. 28. The Tony Award-winning “Indecent” has been described as a deeply moving play inspired by true events surrounding the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s “God of Vengeance,” which depicted the first lesbian kiss on a Broadway stage. Fourth-year School of Drama directing student Acadia Barrengos directs third- and fourth-year actors as her senior thesis project.

Recommended for mature audiences, “Indecent” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 28-31, and Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 4-6, in Catawba Theatre of the Alex Ewing Performance Place. Tickets are $20 regular and $15 students with valid ID and are available on the UNCSA website or by calling the box office at 336-721-1945. UNCSA performance venues will be open at full capacity and audiences will be required to wear masks.

"Indecent" by Paula Vogel

Tony Award-winning "Indecent" opens Thursday, Oct. 28.

“It was very meaningful when 'Indecent' opened on Broadway in 2017, both because it was the first time Paula Vogel had a play produced on Broadway, and because the story itself reflects Broadway's historical resistance to the voices of marginalized communities," said Dean of Drama Scott Zigler. “It presents a very interesting historical perspective of how the gay love story was accepted in Europe, but created a scandal in 1920s America,” he said.

Asch wrote “God of Vengeance” in Yiddish in 1906 Poland. It is the story of a Jewish brothel owner whose daughter falls in love with a prostitute. After successful runs throughout Europe, it was performed successfully in Yiddish in New York. But when translated to English to attract a larger audience, it became a scandal due to the subject matter. The producer and cast of Asch’s play were arrested and convicted on the grounds of obscenity.

“Indecent,” which won two Tony Awards, charts the history of Asch’s incendiary drama and the path of the artists who risked their careers and lives to perform it.

Acadia Barrengos directs "Indecent."

Acadia Barrengos directs "Indecent" as her senior thesis project.

Vogel’s play is an act of homage, Barrengos said. “It actively pays tribute to the Yiddish, immigrant families, Jews, theater makers, and the women, specifically the queer women, who are erased from historical narratives. The play deals with the inheritance of theater, Judaism in America, representation, conflict within communities and how they all intersect,” she said.

Barrengos said she chose the play for the many questions it presents: “What does it mean to be Jewish in America? How do we want Jews, queer people and women represented in our histories and on our stages? How do we reckon within our communities about differences in how we want to be represented? Who is able to tell which stories? If we embrace the intersectionality of our communities, does the way we approach narratives/plays change? How has our world changed in the last 100 years? Has immigration policy? Does art encourage us to grow? Why do we censor art? Should we censor art at all?”

In an interview with Vineyard Theatre, where “Indecent” had its New York premiere in 2016, Vogel described her play: “I don’t think of this as a grim play; I think about it as a love story in terrible times. If we love music and theater and the arts, if we take solace in people sitting beside us in the theater, if we do what is in our hearts, I think there is light for us. I think the power of us being together in a community gives us light through the darkness. I’m writing this play because, regardless of what I’ve witnessed in my life, I’ve never been sorry that I’ve spent my life in the theater. I think the power of art is the power to wound our memory. I think the power of art is a way for us to change our world view. I think art is our spiritual bread that we break together.”

Barrengos said, “I came to directing compelled by the power of art to challenge minds and change policy. ‘Indecent’ is a case study in this.”

Dean Zigler said Vogel is an important contemporary playwright whom his students need to study. “It is part of our mission in the School of Drama to make sure our students are deeply immersed in the landscape of contemporary playwriting, even as they develop the skills necessary for older works,” he said.

Vogel won a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for “How I Learned to Drive.” She founded and ran the playwriting program at Brown University for 24 years and from 2008 to 2012 was the Eugene O’Neill Professor of Playwrighting at Yale School of Drama and playwright-in-residence at the Yale Repertory Theatre.

The cast of “Indecent” includes fourth-year actors Chelsea Rose as Halina, Ishmael Gonzalez as Mendel, Lukey Klein as Lemml, Tess Riley as Vera and Parker Robertson as Otto; and third-year actors Anna Lei Negrin as Chana and Jason Sanchez as Avram.

From the School of Design and Production, Leo Murphy is scenic designer; Tsung Ju Clark Yang is costume designer; Schuyler Bento is lighting designer; Elisa Stroud is wig and makeup designer; Nick Skiba is technical director; Kendall Myers is props director; Ryan Cooper is sound designer; Cassidy Bowles is production manager; and Lindsey Cope is production stage manager.

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October 15, 2021