The Remarkable Road to "Indecent," the Upper School Play


In 1923, after a brief run on Broadway, “God of Vengeance” closed and its actors were led away in handcuffs. Although widely successful in Europe and in New York’s Yiddish theater scene, Sholem Asch’s play proved too controversial for the general public. 

Nearly a century later, two American theater luminaries – Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman – collaborated to revive this historic play, and the fascinating story behind it. The result was a play of their own, “Indecent,” written by Ms. Vogel and for which Ms. Taichman won a Tony award for directing in 2017. 

From November 14-16, fourteen talented Upper School students will stage an exhilarating production of “Indecent,” in the Black Box Theater. 

A play within a play of sorts, “Indecent” follows an intrepid troupe of actors from the first reading of a play in Poland in 1907 to the New York premiere. The show features Yiddish songs, traditional dances and an emotional narrative that tackles themes of censorship, immigration, anti-Semitism and homophobia. 

“This play is a testament to theater’s power to be divisive, revolutionary, and in the end provide a sanctuary,” commented Drama teacher and Head of Lower School Arts and Integration Sarah Bellantoni, who directed the production.

Guided by Ms. Bellantoni, the cast has devoted tireless weeks to perfecting their nuanced roles, which for some include more than one character, while the four-member technical crew has imaginatively transformed the Black Box Theater into a performance space reminiscent of the stages of Old World Europe, complete with red-brick walls and period costumes and props. 
 
Two weeks before opening night, an extraordinary opportunity arose. Chapin parent Mandy Hackett, who is a theater producer, graciously made arrangements for the students to talk with Rebecca Taichman herself. After wrapping up rehearsals on November 1, the excited cast members collected their backpacks and boarded a school bus headed downtown.  

Hopping off the bus in front of Washington Square Park, the students, Ms. Bellantoni, Upper School Music teacher Elizabeth Adler and this writer met Ms. Hackett at the Judson Memorial Theater, where Ms. Taichman is rehearsing her upcoming play, “Sing Street.” 

The director welcomed the Chapin group into a large practice room filled with furniture, racks of clothing and musical instruments, inviting them to sit in a circle of red chairs. For the next 45 minutes, Ms. Taichman spoke candidly about the extraordinary evolution of “Indecent,” including her research and artistic paths and stops and starts along the way. She and Ms. Hackett also shared their broader experiences as accomplished women in the theater industry. 

The students listened keenly, asked insightful questions and absorbed these professionals’ valuable advice, which emphasized the importance of trusting one’s instincts, empowering other voices and persevering.

“This was one of the most amazing opportunities I’ve had during my time at Chapin, and I am so thankful to have gotten to meet and learn from Ms. Taichman,” remarked one cast member. “The people who brought this story to life most definitely had intentions for how they wanted it to be retold. I believe that is now the duty of every member of our cast to honor those intentions to the best of their abilities. I am now even more prepared to perform this play, and I feel a deeper connection to all of the characters and their construction.”

Galvanized by this amazing field trip, the students are eager to bring their interpretation of “Indecent” to the Chapin community. We wish the entire ensemble the best of luck!

Performances are Thursday and Friday, November 14 and 15 at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday, November 16 at 3:00 p.m. in Chapin’s Black Box Theater. For tickets, please email USdramatickets@chapin.edu. This production is recommended for ages 12 and up. 

Cast:
Manha Awais (Class 8)
Sam Gomez Cabrera (Class 11)
Lilah Gorfain (Class 9)
Kiera Hackett (Class 9)
Isla Hamblett (Class 12) 
Mathilda Hirschhorn (Class 8)
Claire Lazar (Class 10) 
Victoria Lee (Class 12) 
Maggie McCarthy (Class 9)
Alex Nuñez (Class 11) 
Claire Ottenstein (Class 11) 
Estella Pettus (Class 10) 
Caroline Smith (Class 10) 
Sophia Votis (Class 11) 

Technical Crew:
Tazrean Hossain (Class 12) 
Jamie Vera (Class 9)
Tallulah Lèon (Class 11)
Gabriella Black (Class 8)

Director: Sarah Bellantoni
Musical Director: Elizabeth Adler
Technical Director and Production Designer: Robert M. Thaxton-Stevenson