Exploring The Origins Of Broadway

By: Elizabeth Van Wye

The Cape Rep cast of “Indecent” in rehearsal this week. COURTESY PHOTO

Cape Rep Premieres 'Indecent'

In 1923 when the Yiddish play "God of Vengeance" opened on Broadway, the entire cast was arrested on the grounds of obscenity. Playwright Paula Vogel's Tony-nominated musical "Indecent," which will have its Cape Cod premiere at Cape Rep theater on Sept. 18, tells the story of the controversy surrounding that original production and the passion of the artists who risked their lives to perform in it.

Maura Hanlon, the director of "Indecent" and longtime associate artistic director of Cape Rep, has followed "Indecent" from its first production in 2015.

"I finally got a hold of the manuscript in 2017," she recalled recently. "From the first stage direction, I knew I wanted to do it. It's a beautiful piece of theater, in some ways even more timely in 2019 than in 2015."

Covering the better part of the 20th century, from 1906 to 1952, "Indecent" fields a troupe of seven actors and three musicians who tell the story over time, playing multiple roles each. With its historical and cultural background in the Yiddish theater, the play provides audiences with a unique perspective of the formative years of what would become the Broadway theater.

"Our sense of theater springs out of Yiddish theater," Hanlon said.

To help ensure authentic depiction of the Yiddish theater and the rendering of the Yiddish phrases sprinkled lightly in the show, Cape Rep engaged Avi Hoffman, an award-winning actor and theatrical consultant on the Yiddish language and culture.

"'Indecent' is one of my favorite plays," Hoffman said, adding he has appeared in several productions to date. "My role was to bring some history of the play and the Yiddish theater to the cast," he said.

"'Indecent' is a love story," Hoffman said, "a story about a play that was performed and then shut down because two women kissed. It's a love story for the people, for the culture, the theater and democracy. It's a universal story, a beautiful tale told over time."

"There are a few lines of Yiddish and I worked with the actors on their dialect," he explained, adding, "we were able to infuse the cast and dialect with the essence of Jewish experience through time."

There were some challenges, he said with a smile. "There was one actor with a distinct New England accent...luckily he had a wonderful grasp of German so he fits in beautifully," he said.

Hoffman's own history makes "Indecent" extremely personal for him as well.

"I started my career in the Yiddish theater," he said. "My grandparents came from Poland and my parents were Holocaust survivors, so there are personal elements here as well."

Hoffman call's Hanlon's direction of “Indecent” at Cape Rep "brilliant. Her vision is so wonderful, in some ways better than those productions I was previously involved in. Even though she is not Jewish, she has investigated this piece and brings a new perspective. Her research and knowledge are amazing."

"You don't have to know Yiddish or the theater to enjoy and understand this show," Hoffman stressed. "It's all in English. And every member of the cast is perfectly suited for the many roles they play. It's a magnificent piece, not to be missed."




At Cape Rep Theater, Route 6A, Brewster

Sept. 18 to Oct. 13

Information and reservations: 508-896-1888, caperep.org