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Indecent | A Note from the Artistic Director

Indecent | A Note from the Artistic Director

We were lucky enough to be on hand when Paula Vogel’s Indecent opened on Broadway five years ago, and being huge fans of hers already, and galvanized by the production, we began angling to present the play’s Bay Area premiere immediately. At the time we were a long shot due to strong interest from bigger companies, but after a two-year pandemic and catastrophic changes in the American theatre, a door opened five years later for us to present Indecent.

As a card-carrying left-hander, my certainty about the choice of this play or any other is instinctual. And I often struggle to put into words what is often an overwhelming visceral reaction. But at our first read of Indecent, when called upon to spell out the ‘why’ of our selection of this play, I luckily pulled a phrase out of the air that still seems apt, not just for this play, but for most everything we have selected for the past 20 seasons. I said Indecent uses “every sword in the scabbard.” Born out of the Ashkenazi Jewish culture of the early 20th Century, Indecent wields the swords of traditional Yiddish dance, the glorious sounds of a Klezmer band and singers, and the traditions of the vaudeville style of Yiddish theatre. It also wields the seductive power of the “play within a play,” employing a troupe of players, presenting a tale about a troupe of players presenting yet another play, “The God of Vengeance.” The meta-theatricality is head-spinning.

It is both a love song to the Ashkenazi Jewish culture spanning 50 years, and a love song to the theatre. It is an odyssey that spins us from Warsaw to Berlin, to NY Yiddish theatre, to Broadway and back to Warsaw as the tumultuous and tragic history of the early 20th Century unfolds around the play within our play. Oh, how we love theatre that can pull the rug out from under our settled lives and whisk us away on a spine-tingling journey. How we love the challenge of seven actors playing 47 roles in four languages, and a band that dances.

We feel so blessed to begin our 20th Anniversary Season. And particularly grateful to kick it off with the many swords of Indecent. How fun to wield them in the service of this rich Yiddish culture as we spin the universal tale of a playwright and his struggles between criticizing and belonging, between courage and complicity, between success and integrity.

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Bill English is Artistic Director and Co-Founder of San Francisco Playhouse, and in fifteen years with Susi Damilano, has guided its growth from a bare-bones storefront to the second-largest theater in San Francisco.

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