Palm Beach Dramaworks Producing Artistic Director William Hayes and GableStage Producing Artistic Director Joseph Adlerare delighted to announce that their companies will be working together to co-produce Indecent, Paula Vogel’s warm, poignant, powerful drama that resurrects the playwright Sholem Asch and the journey of his groundbreaking 1907 work, God of Vengeance. It is believed to be the first co-production between two South Florida theatres. Indecent will open PBD’s season in October, 2018, then move south to launch GableStage’s season in November. J. Barry Lewis will direct.
“We’re excited about the prospect of working together,” said Hayes and Adler in a joint statement. “We’re two serious theatres with distinct profiles that bookend the tri-county area, and we’d never pursued the same play. But we both adored Indecent when we saw it in New York, and were passionate about producing it in 2018. We’re friends, and we have great respect for each other’s work, so we decided to explore the possibility of a co-production. And we came to the conclusion that a joint production would be advantageous to both theatres, to our audiences, and to the actors. The theatres will share design costs and some marketing expenses, the production will have a longer life and be seen by more people than usual, and the cast will have the luxury of exploring their characters for an extended period. Beyond that, the production underscores the vibrancy of the South Florida theatre community; we’re collaborative, not competitive. By joining forces and doing something that’s never been tried before between two South Florida companies, this is both an exciting experiment and a major event.”
The set will be built at PBD’s shop. When the show finishes its run in West Palm, the set will be modified to accommodate the stage dimensions at GableStage.
Indecent was created by Vogel and Rebecca Taichman, who received the 2017 Tony Award for Best Director of a Play. Taichman had long wanted to tell the story of the drama and controversy surrounding God of Vengeance following its Broadway premiere in 1923. She approached Vogel, whom she did not know, and discovered that, years earlier, the playwright had also been infatuated with Asch’s play. Vogel took Taichman’s idea and ran with it, broadening the scope of the original concept.
A drama with music, Indecent depicts the history of God of Vengeance, beginning in Warsaw in 1906 just before Asch is about to present the first reading of the play in a literary salon, and continuing through 1952, when he is about to leave America, his adopted homeland. At the heart of the piece is the ugly storm that erupted two weeks after God of Vengeance opened on Broadway: on March 6, 1923, the cast and producer were arrested for “unlawfully advertising, giving, presenting, and participating in an obscene, indecent, immoral, and impure drama or play.” Their crime? The depiction of a lesbian relationship and a kiss between two women.
Until that moment in time, God of Vengeance had been performed on stages all over the world, both in its original Yiddish and a multitude of other languages, and was recognized as an important work. “In the seventeen years [the play] has been before the public, this is the first time I have had to defend it,” Asch wrote in an open letter as the offstage drama unfolded.
In addition to defending his compassionate, understanding approach to same-sex love, he also spoke to those in the New York Jewish community who were angry and offended that the main male character was less than noble. God of Vengeance is about an Orthodox Jew named Yekel who runs a brothel in the basement of his home. Yekel believes that if he can find a righteous husband for his innocent daughter, Rifkele, and has a Torah scroll created as a gift to the couple, he can earn respect and make amends with God. He is unaware that Rifkele has fallen in love with Manke, one of his prostitutes.
Indecent incorporates some of the dialogue from God of Vengeance, including its most memorable section, a lyrical love scene in the rain between Rifkele and Manke.
“I read Sholem Asch when I was 14 years old, so I feel I have a direct connection to the material,” said Adler. “I grew up in Brooklyn, in a Conservative Jewish home, and I knew about Yiddish theatre. I talked about the issues in Asch’s plays with my parents, and I was aware that he got in trouble way back when for writing a play about lesbianism. I knew all about the characters inGod of Vengeance, and about the actors who appeared in the play. My knowledge, my background, and my relationship to Yiddishkeit, made me very eager to stage Indecent.”
Although Indecent ends in the middle of the twentieth century, the issues raised in the play reverberate resoundingly in 2017: the subjugation of women, anti-Semitism, antipathy toward immigrants, antagonism toward gays, and the role of art and artists in troubled times.
“What intrigued me most, and made me want to do this play, is its simple and beautiful love story,” said Hayes. “The relationship between Rifkele and Manke is pure love, and I found that very moving. I also learned something more about the Jewish experience and about Sholem Asch, with whom I had just a passing acquaintance. The beauty of Indecent is that it speaks to everyone, regardless of their background, and underscores the impact of artists on society.”
Palm Beach Dramaworks is a non-profit, professional theatre and is a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the South Florida Theatre League, Florida Professional Theatres Association, and the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County.
GableStage is a non-profit, professional theatre and is a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the South Florida Theatre League, Florida Professional Theatres Association, Florida Cultural Alliance, Dade Cultural Alliance, Americans for the Arts, and The Drama League, as well as Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce, Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, and the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.