Previews: INDECENT at American Stage

INDECENT runs October 4-29, 2023, at American Stage.

By: Sep. 29, 2023
Previews: INDECENT at American Stage

Coming to American Stage is Paula Vogel's INDECENT on October 4-29, 2023, a play that recounts the first lesbian kiss in the 1923 play GOD OF VENGEANCE. The love story celebrates Jewish culture and reminds us of the consequences of censorship, religious persecution, and homophobia.

INDECENT stars Cynthia Becker (Vera), Cody Taylor (Mendel), Emma Friedman (Chana), Eric Olson (Otto), Michael Raver (Lemml),  Josephine Phoenix (Halina),  Mykail Cooley (Avram), Kira Burri (Female Swing), and Anthony Gervais (Male Swing).

This is the American Stage directorial debut of producing artistic director Helen R. Murray and the first show in their 46th Season. The show also features performances in Yiddish and English, and musicians will take the stage with the cast to perform traditional folk music & dance. 

When actor Michael Raver received the news that he had been cast as Lemml in "INDECENT," his reaction was nothing short of elation.

“I was floored. My callback and subsequent chemistry read were both so brief. So often, we interpret a quick audition to mean that we're being dismissed or that we're not right for something. In this case, I can only guess Helen knew what she wanted and that she didn't want to waste my time, which I really appreciate. I read the play again, this time with the context of actually playing the role, and sobbed. I was beside myself. So excited," recalls Raver about his initial reaction to the casting.

Lemml, a character of immense significance in "INDECENT," undergoes a remarkable transformation throughout the play. Raver delved deep into his own heritage to prepare for this role, discovering a newfound appreciation for his Jewish roots.

"I'd mentioned to Helen right before we started rehearsals that I'd always been a little ashamed of my Jewish heritage. I'm not proud of that, but in my experience, it had always been tied to a lot of discomfort and misery. The first thing I did to prepare (other than immediately starting to learn my lines—I'm slow of study) was pull the proverbial curtain back on where I came from," says Raver. He drew inspiration from his Jewish grandmothers, whose nurturing and protective qualities were a bright spot in his childhood and resonated with Lemml's character. "These are essential qualities of who Lemml is, too. So, the simple answer is that I'm basically emulating both of them," he adds.

At the heart of INDECENT lies a powerful message about idealism. Raver is drawn to Vogel's exploration of radical and idealistic viewpoints, emphasizing the importance of engaging in difficult conversations to promote inclusivity.

The play delves into the controversy surrounding the first lesbian kiss on Broadway. Raver believes it underscores the journey towards acceptance and highlights the ongoing struggle for love without judgment, emphasizing that it's merely a kiss, a beautiful love story.

"I love that Lemml goes from being so meek, verging on fragile and that the theatrical art form gives him a Joan of Arc-style epiphany. An awakening. He becomes the steward of this play and of the company that works on it. I love that Vogel wrote him as a blue-collar man, a simple creature who ends up evolving into someone willing to go to the ends of the earth to give other people what the play gave to him."

Portraying the historical context of Lemml's character authentically was aided by the script's rich and vivid dialogue. Raver also paid attention to his character presentation to capture the essence of the period. "Obviously, in addition to that, as an actor, checking my mannerisms and posture is a big part of that, too," he explains. "And like I said, each time I step out to start the play, I feel like I'm invoking both of my grandmothers who weren't born that much later than Lemml would have been."

While bringing Lemml to life, Raver faced challenges, particularly with memorizing lines and dancing, but his dedication and hard work shone through in his performance.

The play's emphasis on Yiddish theater and preserving cultural traditions resonated deeply with Raver. He sees Lemml's role as a champion for THE GOD OF VENGEANCE, reflecting the value that Jewish culture places on art and education.

Ultimately, Raver hopes audiences take away the message that life-changing epiphanies can happen anytime. Lemml's unwavering optimism and willingness to support others serve as a reminder to prioritize love and support for one another.

As the play resonates with LGBTQ+ themes, Raver appreciates the progress made in queer representation in theater but recognizes the need for further advancements. INDECENT challenges the absurdity of societal judgments over a simple kiss between two women.

"We've come so far, yet still have so far to go. It's a kiss, right? That's all it is. It's an innocent, beautiful love story—and we are still mired in the swamp of some people fundamentally not understanding that two people, regardless of their gender circumstances, should be allowed to love each other without judgment." 

Behind the scenes, the cast of INDECENT bonded quickly, creating a fun and welcoming environment. Laughter and fluid transitions between Yiddish dialects enriched the rehearsal room experience.

Navigating the non-linear narrative of the play required meticulous preparation, including color-coded tabs in Raver's script to track Lemml's evolving accent and facility with speech.

The play explores the immigrant experience in the United States, particularly during an era when many faced uncertainty. Raver acknowledges that INDECENT addresses issues still relevant today, such as the challenges that dreamers and undocumented individuals face.

INDECENT's critical acclaim is a testament to its power. Raver hopes the audience leaves the performance with an appreciation for the play's ability to challenge preconceptions and inspire open-mindedness, even in a complex world.

The play's profound themes, powerful performances, and innovative staging promise a compelling and thought-provoking experience for theatergoers.

"There is something really powerful about doing a play that addresses anti-semitism, homophobia, and censorship in Florida. While I realize that St. Pete is a very inclusive city in a lot of ways, the state as a whole is complicated. People are capable of listening to ideas that differ from the ones they've already got. This play showcases that. If what we do inspires people to turn left where they'd previously turned right (I'm not necessarily talking about political affiliation), then I feel like we've done our job."

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