Captivating Storytelling: INDECENT at The ARTS
INDECENT: THE TRUE STORY OF A LITTLE JEWISH PLAY written by Paula Vogel, directed by Lurana Donnels O’Malley, is a reverent and haunting telling of a masterpiece that bears witness to the saving grace and power of Theatre.
The timeline begins before World War II, the audience travels through it like the Inception movie with scenes from Sholom Ash’s life, his play The God of Vengance, the controversies that surrounded his work, and the Yiddish Theatre Troupe who was brave enough to share its truth.
We open with the character "Lemml, the Stage Manager," who serves as the gateway and narrator to the show by welcoming the audience, introducing characters, and who provides backstory. The actors (Adam Brading, Ann Brandman, Brandon Caban, Tyler Haugen, Adrian Khactu, Annie Lokomaikaʻi Lipscomb, Christina Uyeno, and band members Sean T.C. O’Malley and Ruby O’Malley) guide us through a timeline laced with captivating storytelling, hypnotizing dance, and haunting song. Projections establish travel to Europe, America, and everything in between. It also helps to establish moments that when the characters speak their native languages (Yiddish or other) it is spoken in English and then when speaking English their English is spoken with accents. A truly amazing feat achieved by the actors is their ability to switch between dialects/accents, effortlessly guided by accent coach Sharon Garcia Doyle and Yiddish consult Morris Rabinko.
The show’s success is an ‘ohana endeavor by the ever talented O’Malley family (Lurana O’Malley, Sean T.C. O’Malley-Music Director, Ruby O’Malley-Musician/Logo Design, and Teia O’Malley-Prop Design) whose work can be seen on and off the stage. They are joined by the equally amazingly talented individuals of their design team: Harmony Tesoro (Choreographer), Christopher Patrinos (Sets & Light design), Carlynn Wolfe (Costume Design), Mia Yoshimoto (Hair/Makeup Design), and Kat Altman (Projections). The combination of well crafted designs and execution beautifully frame the actors with precision and amplify the show. The music, set, and lights immediately transports the audience into a world that is a smorgasbord of places, people, and well-captured moments. Costumes are so distinct, recognizable, and yet have subtle accents which allow the actors to go in and out of multiple characters believably. The cast, including the musicians, are woven so meticulously throughout the show, capturing the intricacies of genuine, heartfelt, and truthful storytelling.
The chemistry onstage between all the actors is purely electric. Each actor is vibrant, versatile, dynamic and skillful in their performance. This is especially apparent in the performances of Christina Uyeno and Annie Lokomaika’i Lipscomb who play Halina (Lipscomb) and Chana (Uyeno), the lovers which Asch’s The God of Vengeance orbits around. Lipscomb and Uyeno invoke so many iconic experiences of love from their artful and skillful showcasing of their character’s magnetism/excitement from each other’s touch to the slow relaxed exhale of content that one feels in the arms of the person they cherish most. As an audience member bearing witness to such happiness left my heart beaming with warmth and a smile from ear to ear. It is such a treat to watch the characters exude in all the wonderful moments of love and connection. Notably, Adam Brading champions forward as Sholom Asch while also transforming into other characters along the way. Brandon Caban moves beautifully throughout the play in a parade of characters as Nakhmen, Rabbi, and Officer Baile.
Choreographed by Harmony Turner Tesoro, the movement and dances were so intriguing it was intoxicating and hypnotic. Every actor’s limbs/armature pushed through the space with music, which was one of the most beautiful manifestations of storytelling in this piece. A specific example of this was when the actors stood in a diagonal line which recurred at different moments and times throughout the play. The resonance of the line grew so much so that by the last time the audience sees it our realization leaves us gripped with suspense and dread.
While watching Indecent, the play’s relevance was so apparent, not just because of the themes of LGBTQIN+, World War II, theatre, intolerance, etc… It resonates in its time and especially today because it reminds us about how far love can take us. This is not only the romantic, erotic, and passionate love that is idolized in novels, movies, and our current culture. Most importantly, it’s the love that embeds itself in everything seen in the strength, courage, and endurance it takes to sustain it. This is exemplified in Lemml “Lou,” the Stage Manager’s character.
At a moment in the second half of the play the very passionate Lemml “Lou” (Adrian Khactu) who is one of the first supporters of Sholom Asch’s play The God of Vengeance, plays the violin. This immediately reminded me of an Elie Wiesel quote about his character Juliek in his book Night:
“It was pitch dark. I could hear only the violin and it was as though Juliek’s soul were the bow--he was playing his life. The whole of his life was gliding on the strings--his last hopes, his charred past, his extinguished future.”
As Juliek’s music echoed through Wiesel’s writing to me so did Lemml's love filled storytelling of Asch's The God of Vengeance with unwavering passion, loyalty, and courage resonate through the space at the ARTS at Marks.
This truly visceral story reaches far beyond the stage, touches your heart, excites your soul, leaves you breathless and yearning for more.
Written by J. Makiʻilei Ishihara.