Life reflects art and vice versa in Indecent, the play within a play where artists portray the true story of a couple who was once considered morally and socially risqué.
Indecent is making its debut at the DCPA’s Space Theatre this Friday, August 30 and will run through October 6, with an emotional and groundbreaking tale of censorship, defiance, and devotion.
The story of Indecent is an emotional journey written by Pulitzer-winning playwright Paula Vogel of a group of passionate artists who risked everything to produce a play titled The God of Vengeance, written by Sholem Asch. A highly successful, provocative Yiddish story in the early 1900s of a same-gender couple, it was deemed “indecent” once it attempted to make its Broadway debut. Refusing to allow the piece of art to be silenced, the Tony Award-nominated play takes the viewers through the history of censorship, homophobia, and anti-Semitism.
OUT FRONT recently spoke with the two lead actresses, Lianne Marie Dobbs and Andrea Goss, and director Nancy Keystone about the significance of queer stories in art and how love can truly bring light into the darkest of times.
Lianne, what were your original feelings when you read the script, and what did you connect most to with this character?
When I first read the script, I was really touched by the journey and the power that this piece of theatre had for so many different people, countries, ages, and affiliations. I’m playing six different women that all played the role of Manke in the different years, from 1906 to the end of the 40s.
There’s a quote of these two women being the beacon of light in the dark world; the safety and the love that they give for each other is amidst a very unhappy and dark home life. I just found that the safety that they find with each other is very special. The thing that struck me is that it’s not just about censorship; it’s about how many people were taken by these two young women loving and giving each other safety. That wasn’t given a label in 1906; they weren’t called lesbians; it was called beautiful.
Andrea, how did you connect with this character, and did you have any reservations or trepidation in playing a queer character on stage?
No, I didn’t. I think the writing is absolutely beautiful. I think what drew me to Paula’s writing is she writes incredibly strong women. Like Lianne said, we’re both playing six different characters, and each one of them are so different. They’re so human; they’re outside of any type of stereotype; it’s just about their relationships with whoever they’re with. Sometimes you don’t get that, especially from a world that there are so many men writers; luckily we have somebody like Paula who’s writing for the voice of females.
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Nancy, what drew you to this story, and why do you think it’s so important for audiences to get to know these characters?
Well, there’s so much going on in the play, and I love the complications of it. It is the story of the play The God of Vengeance as well as the journey of the play through time, the various acting troops, as well as different historical and fictional characters around that. It travels across half the 20th century and two continents; it’s performed in several languages, and it has live music and movement. It has very relevant political, sociological, and social justice issues; there’s a big theme about immigration, about ‘the other,’ about acceptance, and representation. All of those things were really exciting to me, and the way that it’s woven in to a very theatrical structure was really, really exciting.
Theatrically, it’s so unusual for a contemporary play, the different kinds of layers, and it turns on a dime between different genres and forms. It’s satirical in one moment, then realistic, then melodramatic, and then there’s a song, so it really has a lot of different flavors going on.
Nancy, what was your vision in weaving through all of these elements, and how has it been working with the cast and crew in bringing that vision to life?
There’s so much theatricality baked into it, and a lot of ideas are present in the script itself, so it wasn’t like approaching a Shakespeare play where I’m coming in and laying a concept onto it. My goal is to just make it as clear as possible and amplify the ideas that are already there, and it’s been great. We’re all just exploring it, and as a huge collaboration, everybody has great ideas and that’s what the experience is.
Maybe one of the more challenging things is that it’s being done in the round, and I think this might be the first time it’s done in the round. It’s my favorite type of theater, by the way. As an audience member, I love having the voyeuristic experience that you get from a round; I’m able to truly watch people being private in public. Even if you’re in a small proscenium, you’re still showing, but when they’re all around you, it’s about how subtle and real I can be. I find the most moving experiences I’ve ever had, the ones that stick with me years after are when I’ve been an audience member in the round, honestly.
Andrea, the run in Denver is your second undertaking of your characters in Indecent; can you share what makes this time so unique?
I think with this piece, because the writing is so incredible and impactful, I’m still constantly finding something new every time that I go into rehearsal. I don’t think I can say that about every piece, especially if I’ve done something a few times before, and this piece just continues to surprise me. Also, finding new things with my new scene partner has been wonderful to create this again and explore, because I feel like I can constantly peel back more and more layers.
Lianne, during the rehearsals, what was surprising to you as the production has been coming together?
The way that our company has become an acting troupe, and while that should be the case, a piece doesn’t always demand that. We really are traveling and exploring with things like a blank canvas in a good way, in a scary way, a fun way, so that’s been very special that we have already become a troupe and not just actors.
Something that’s really fun and unique in this piece is that pretty much all of my scenes are with Andrea, but she is a different person every time I see her. She is my main anchor through the story, but every time I look at her, our relationship is going to be slightly different, because I’m playing different women that had a relationship with her. I’m only starting to understand that there is a mind game.
Nancy, how do you dive in and tackle guiding your actors through this process of finding the depth of not only one character but six different people?
We spent a lot of time sorting through the script to determine who’s saying, what, when, and what is different about this scene, why this scene is in the play, and who these characters are. We spent a lot of time analyzing that, and for me, it’s one of my favorite kind of challenges. I’m also a writer, and the pieces that I write also have a lot of different characters and historical periods, so it’s sort of in my wheelhouse to do that.
Lianne: Is there something different about your approach to playing a character that is LGBTQ?
When they’re in the troupe, everybody in the troupe knows, and there is no judgment; it is a safe space even though it’s 1923. But we did have to talk about how does it affect them, their personality, their psychology, because it is something that is hidden from everybody that they correspond with outside the safety of their friends.
The interesting thing in this play that isn’t dealt with until the play comes uptown to Broadway in New York, and that’s the first time you really deal with the censorship of two women being LGBTQ. It does put the stakes really high, because it’s not a stereotype of what we think the LGBTQ community is. These are human beings in a relationship, just like anybody else, and that is something that we really want to make sure thats clear. It’s beautiful, any type of love.
Nancy, what is something that audiences should know before they attend, and what would you hope they walk away thinking or feeling after seeing Indecent?
They should know that it’s a multi-faceted, theatrical event, and it’s a very interesting journey; be open to the events; I think that’s the most important thing. I don’t think you need to know anything; the play speaks for itself, and it takes the audience along.
One of the most important things to me is the importance and power of art to the human spirit and storytelling, and so I think that’s one of the things that is so beautiful and so well-received. I would hope that people would take that away with them.