Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.


Indecent – The true story of a little Jewish play – Marvelous


In Sholem Asch’s 1907 play, The God of Vengeance (Got fun nekome), a lesbian virgin and a prostitute make love in the rain. Despite accompanying scandal, Europe applauds. In 1923, when, after several U.S. productions, a translated version reaches Broadway, its cast is arrested, then convicted on obscenity charges. The now established Asch, living and working on Staten Island, doesn’t show up to defend the company. Much happened between.

Stage Manager Lemmel (a splendidly empathetic Richard Topol) introduces his thespians and musicians – ingénues, middle aged actors, and those who play the elderly.  Each stands. Ashes pour from their sleeves. (Inspired) “We have a story about a play that changed my life…”

company dance

The Company

We’re all brothers and sing happy songs/We stick together like nobody else does…the company sings in Yiddish.

It’s 1906 Warsaw. Polish/Jewish author Sholem Asch, 1880-1957 (the entirely credible Max Gordon Moore) is excited about reading his play at the writers’ salon of cultural figurehead Y.L. Peretz (Tom Nellis, also in a roster of vibrantly realized roles). Peretz spearheads a renaissance of Yiddish writing, Asch’s mother tongue. The piece is condemned by those gathered for showing Jewish people in poor light. Only a tailor named Lemmel, invited by his cousin, is enthusiastic. “A minion,” Asch comments darkly in response, “is ten Jews in a circle accusing each other of Antisemitism.”

The God of Vengeance features a hypocritically pious, Jewish brothel owner who commissions an expensive Torah scroll intending to marry his daughter off to a yeshiva student to secure respectability. When she falls in love with a prostitute, her furious father throws down the Torah and banishes the girl and her mother to earn their keep “on your backs.”


Richard Topol and Adina Verson

In search of creative freedom, Shalom and his wife Mathilde (Adina Verson) move to Berlin as initially depicted here by a Weimar Cabaret act. There the piece is produced in a German version by Max Reinhardt with Rudolph Shildkraut (Nellis) in the lead. “I assume I will be the butch and you the feminine, but how do I play a Jew?” the more experienced actress (Katrina Lenk) reflects. (The other is played by Verson.) We watch as these two discover one another. Lemmel shows up (it’s not clear how) and becomes the production’s stage manager, a position he’ll hold for the rest of his life.

The show tours outside of Poland. We see excerpts with the use of actors freezing while “a blink in time” appears on the translation screen – a method to fast forward. The couple emigrates to New York. Asch pulls strings to insure Lemmel joins them. Peyos (long, hanging sidelocks) are dispensed with. “Even Jews looks like Goys in America,” they sing and dance. Many take English names and endeavor to learn the language. Asch continues to write in Yiddish.


Adina Verson and Katrina Lenk; Katrina Lenk and Adina Verson

There are two successful downtown runs. Audiences appreciate the playwright’s ability to bring Jewish themes to secular subjects. A translation that takes liberties to which Lemmel and the cast object, but Asch ignores “why should I bother with a play I wrote when I was in short pants” facilitates a debut at Broadway’s Apollo Theater. (The nature of these makes this plausible.) Arrests follow. Though notable artists volunteer to testify in defense (Eugene O’Neill is shown), the court denies them opportunity.

Angry and disillusioned, Lemmel goes back to Warsaw where he’s incarcerated in the ghetto (and eventually taken to a camp). The “company” add Jewish stars to their threadbare coats and perform one makeshift act of the play each week. This is wrenching. In the meantime, Asch and his wife…


Richard Topol, Katrina Verson, Katrina Lenk, Tom Nellis, Stephen Ratazzi, and Mimi Lieber

Paula Vogel and Rebecca Teichman’s deft, provocative production has moved, much intact, from The Vineyard Theatre to The Cort. I hope its new location brings the worthy piece extended audience. I’m Jewish, my companion tonight is not; impact seems equally experienced. Subjects like censorship, religious conservatism, cultural convention, assimilation, and bigotry – here, both Antisemitism and homophobia are universally relevant.

Though it’s passionate, Indecent is not a polemic. The eloquent book is peppered with songs and dances, both traditionally Yiddish (translations appear when necessary, on a screen) and popular English WWII numbers. These can lighten proceedings or darken them with sharp juxtaposition to events. Failings and accomplishment are depicted through specific human characters, not ideas. Indecent (an ambiguous title) is both immensely moving and entertaining.

Asche port

Sholem Asch

Manke (the prostitute)… Because I don’t want to talk any more. Okay? No more talking.Talking’s never a good idea. I wanna dance.
Orthodox Man (her client) Dance?
(She goes to the Victrola, puts on a jaunty Tin Pan Alley tune.)
Manke: There, come on let’s dance. (She pulls him to his feet.)
Orthodox Man: No, no, I can’t.
Manke: What do you mean you can’t?
Orthodox Man: It’s not allowed…
Manke: “Not allowed?” You’ll pay to shtup me but you won’t dance with me?

From The God of Vengeance

The God of Vengeance was translated into multiple languages enjoying a long life abroad. Shalom Asch’s works are many and varied. He eventually wrote in English. In an attempt to show religious similarities, one trilogy examines pointedly Christian subjects. It elicited backlash from both sides.

Also featuring Mimi Lieber and Stephen Rattazzi.

The outstanding cast can act, sing, and dance. Many speak perfect Yiddish. Well integrated onstage, Co-Composers/Music Directors- Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva play multiple instruments joined by the equally skilled Matt Darriau.

Emily Rebholtz’s Costumes reflect the time/place/people like archival photos. Choreography by David Dorfman aesthetically captures tradition and context with skill.

Director Rebecca Teichman has illuminated a complicated story in accessible, affecting manner. Intermingling musical numbers with dialogue enhances rather than distracts from both aspects of the production. Use of the translation screen works well. Actors are given space to inhabit their characters.

Forewarned: This is another production of some length ( 1 3/4 hours) without an intermission! (A current fad with which I disagree past 75 minutes.)

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Shalom Asch-Max Gordon Moore & Lemmel- Richard Topol

Indecent by Paula Vogel
Created by Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
Projection Design- Tal Yarden
Cort Theatre
138 West 48th Street

No End of Blame: Scenes of Overcoming– Strong and Thought Provoking


“…Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” (Dylan Thomas.)

Grigor (David Barlow), a battleworn, Hungarian foot soldier in World War I, comes upon a field strewn with bodies. Suddenly one moves. A woman, back to us, struggles to her feet-filthy, whimpering, abused, naked from the waist up. Ecstatic, he kneels- in order to sketch her! (We see the page on a screen.) “Where are you?!” he cries to his comrade Bela (Alex Draper.) “…I’m so sick of drawing men…Look at her breasts, her buttocks!..” Bela has other ideas. Exhausted and salivating, he starts to undress. Grigor prevents the rape, then drapes his friend across a corpse for another drawing. Gotcha.

Front-Jonathan Tinder, Alex Draper. background: Stephen Medina, Alexander Burnett

In short shrift, the men are cornered by Russians, accused of homosexuality and threatened with death. To prove himself an artist, Bela is commanded to create a poem. Literary ‘adjustments’ by the sadistic, foreign officer offend him. Revenge might be irrational, but it’s satisfying. Grigor is horrified. Bela shoots into the sky, returning appalled with himself. We’ve learned a great deal about the two men and the era in which they live as well as experiencing a bait and switch.

It’s not until the second scene at The Institute of Fine Art in Budapest, it dawns that our hero is not Grigor. Bela, the blue-eyed boy of his peers, eschews painting for cartooning. While his friend is a traditionalist who waxes poetic about women’s bodies, Bela declares, “Give me ink which dries fast!” The caption of his first commandeered cartoon reads: We will revive the spirit of Hungary!  The government doesn’t approve. Expelled, the two men and Bela’s lover Ilona (Stephanie Janssen), emigrate to Moscow. “I will find you nudes,” he promises his reticent friend.

David Barlow, Alex Draper

A committee at the Writers’ and Artists’ Institute in Moscow (1925) objects to Bela’s political leanings while praising his work in honeyed terms. They’re collectively sure he’ll bow in the service of the people. Rationalization is universal, timeless, insidious. The beautifully executed scene finds its bureaucrats-in-denial with their backs to us, facing a screen on which we see the objectionable cartoons. (Excellent drawings by Gerald Scarfe, resemble those of Ralph Steadman. They’re minimal, active, angry, and telling.)

Front-Alexander Burnett, Valerie Leonard, Christopher Marshall, Christo Grabowski; Back-Alex Draper & Jonathan Tindle

Bela flees Russia for England, while Grigor and Ilona stay behind, taking to the woods in hope of a peaceful family life. The artist enters his new home with an empty suitcase kissing the ground at Dover. Fortunately, his reputation appears to have preceded him. Work is secured. Bela is appreciated. He has no personal life. Years pass. Glimpses of character are like haikus.

In a speech offering cultural respite to a group of World War II RAF pilots, our hero states that he believes the cartoon to be the lowest and more important kind of art. “Important art is about us. Great art is about me (the artist.)” The so-called lecture is brief but perfect; its staging effectively immersive. (Alas, the overacting of younger company members limits impact.) History repeats itself when Churchill objects to Bela’s art. Grigor shows up in London. Both men suffer in extreme the results of repression. We end in 1975.

Loosely based on the celebrated German political cartoonist, Victor Weisz (1913-1966), No End of Blame is a story of ever present censorship, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Its protagonist, Bela Veracek is in perpetual search of artistic freedom. In three countries, he maintains democratic independence until political environment no longer permits.

Christopher Marshall, Alex Draper , background- David Barlow,                  Jonathan Tindle

The anti-Nazi Weisz fled Germany for England where he astonishingly managed to express himself without being impeded at Liberal, Labour and Conservative newspapers. Depressive and volatile, he eventually committed suicide. This ends without that tragedy, but not for lack of trying. That scene is again, splendidly staged, though the succeeding one in an asylum is confusing.

A play by Howard Barker, like a gourmet meal, is challenging, eloquent, original, sometimes raw, occasionally over rich, and always worth the experience. The darkest subjects are approached not only with wide-reaching intelligence, but also pithy sexuality and intermittent humor-both unerringly effective.

Symposia on his work have been mounted at prestigious universities. Actors from The Royal Shakespeare Company and The Royal Court formed The Wrestling School- its name indicating that that the audience must wrestle with the authors ideas, a company devoted solely to producing his extensive oeuvre. The Potomac Theatre has had a long and fruitful relationship with Barker. Through their presentations I learned about and became an avid follower of the playwright.

Once again, Associate Artistic Director, Alex Draper (Bela) is terrific in an unremittingly complex role. He commands the stage with gusto, focus, and nuance. Accent is impeccable. The actor is as physically riveting as he is emotionally palpable- here arrogant, shy, seething, passionate, lost.

David Barlow admirably embodies Grigor, showing sensitivity and tenderness Bela will never experience. A scene where the shredded character is approached by Bela in a London park, is deftly portrayed.

Stephanie Janssen is sympathetic and credible as Ilona. Jonathan Tindle has some fine, officious, blindered moments

Of the company, the stand-out is Christopher Marshall who inhabits every one of his numerous roles with naturalness, presence, and adroit characterization.

Director and company Co-Artistic Director, Richard Romagnoli, has done a superb job. Some staging highlights are mentioned above. Official confrontations do not, as they might, emerge formulaic. The production is all but without set, yet characters always seem to ‘be’ where described. Use of projection is impactful. Pacing is excellent. One only wishes younger company members could be restrained and that accents were more consistent.

Sound Design by Seth Clayton is top tier whether music, voice, or effect.
Danielle Nieves’s Costume Design is exactly right from rags to Klimt robes to uniforms.

Photos by Stan Barough

Opening: Alex Draper ; Illustration by Gerald Scarfe

PTP/NYC presents
No End of Blame: Scenes of Overcoming by Howard Barker
Directed by Richard Romagnoli
The Atlantic Theater    330 West 16 Street
In repertory through August 7, 2016