A Not-So Queer Story About A Queer Story

Review of Indecent at Seattle Rep.

Written by Franklin High School student Cecilia Carroll.

Indecent Final 5 gepidy

Halfway into the performance, there is a moment where the entire cast within Indecent reveal yellow Jewish stars on their clothes, and one person stands out against the crowd. One star is not just yellow, but a black triangle and a yellow triangle, put together to make the star. The black triangle was used to mark many things, one of those being the mark for lesbians. At first the addition of it was shocking to me, as the black triangle isn’t too often used as a queer symbol, but it rather became a nice addition in a play that concerns a queer Jewish story. Written by Paula Vogel, Indecent tells the story of the writing, producing, success, and censoring of the play God of Vengeance by Sholem Asch. God of Vengeance was the first performance on Broadway to feature a kiss between two Jewish women, one the daughter of a brothel owner and the other an ex-prostitute, which gets the cast of God of Vengeance arrested after their first performance on Broadway. While Indecent is not a queer story itself, the way it choses to explore how people intake queer theater, and how intersectionality plays into that, makes it an interesting and worthwhile play to see.

Within Indecent there are two ways in which the characters view God of Vengeance, one view is with disdain, the other is a love for something that dares to show what some may see as obscene within a beautiful light. The romance between the two female leads in God of Vengeance is brought up many times within Indecent, with one particular scene being mentioned above the rest, this is what is referred to as the rain scene. The rain scene is mentioned over and over, and it is most often described as beautiful, one of which that shows the most wonderful love between two characters who just so happen to be women; one character even compares this scene to the balcony scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Within this, Indecent shows how queer media and theater can easily be normalized within the eyes of many, allowing some to see it simply as another love story. Meanwhile, there are others within the story that see the love between two women only as something wrong. Within the scene where Sholem Asch first shows God of Vengeance to others, he is met with a clear message: That the story of two Jewish women falling in love at a brothel is not what the world needed to see, especially of the Jewish population. This carries on into the opening night of God of Vengeance on Broadway, in which the one who reports the play to the police, which, in turn, gets the cast arrested, is himself a Jewish man. This man gets an entire monologue to explain his motives, about how he cannot understand why the Jewish author of the play would try to show something, seen by many at the time as obscene, as acceptable. Through God of Vengeance, Indecent shows how one’s ethnicity and religion affects how one views a form of media, especially queer theater.

With all this in mind, it should also be mentioned that Indecent is first and foremost not a queer story, but a Jewish one. Within Indecent homophobia and anti-semitism intersect, we see this often as the Jewish characters against God of Vengeance most often refer to how it not only portrays two women in love, but also Jewish characters within a brothel, both things not much discussed at the time. These characters know of the struggles of being Jewish at that time and don’t want God of Vengeance to add onto that. And this is where the idea of what we modern audiences call homophobia seems almost not as extreme as we’d think it be, but it is portrayed this way not because there was any less amount of homophobia at that time, but rather about how society just did not mention it. And how if one was Jewish at the time, they did not want to have to deal with the idea of also being oppressed by society for any other reason. As the effects of creating a play in which Jewish people are not fully in the idea of what was thought of as positive at the time is what is seen as the issue. This intersection between homophobia and anti- semitism in some senses would seem to put one as more important over the other, but it instead reveals the complex relationship between those two things and how one deals with the two.

In conclusion, seeing Indecent as a lesbian evokes a mixed range of emotions and feelings that can still not be fully put into words. But this isn’t a bad thing, this is what has kept me engaged with Indecent and what determines my reaction to it. Because these complexities, in how people view queer representation and how that representation is done, are what make Indecent something that has only been more and more thought provoking since I saw it at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. So all should see this play, to determine one’s own feelings towards it, and see how our own personal experiences feed into our reaction.

Lead photo credit: Cheyenne Casebier and Andi Alhadeff in Indecent at Seattle Rep. Photo by Bronwen Houck.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

This review was written as part of an Arts Criticism 101 workshop at Franklin High School in Ms. Geffner's 11th grade Language Arts classes, taught by Press Corps teaching artist Becs Richards.

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