By Amanda Reed
Pittsburgh Current Staff Writers
In Paula Vogel’s 2015 play Indecent, Reina—played by Emily Daly in Pittsburgh Public Theater’s upcoming production of the work— says “This will be the only role in my lifetime where I could tell someone I love that I love her onstage” when learning that she is being recast in the Broadway production of God of Vengeance, and can no longer share the stage with her real-life lover, Dine.
For Daly, that’s true, without the recasting. She and Robert Tendy, who plays Avram, play a couple onstage and off, both making their Equity debut at the Public after both graduating from University of California-Irvine with an MFA in acting.
“As actors, you use everything you’ve got and it only makes it easier to have someone you know and you trust playing on-stage couple,” she says. “That’s kind of the dream.”
Daly and Tendy star in Indecent, which Pittsburgh Public Theater stages from April 18 to May 19. Based on a true story, the play centers around Sholem Asch’s controversial play “God of Vengeance,” where the cast for the original 1923 Broadway production was arrested on the charges of obscenity, based on its open depiction of same-sex love.
Indecent—which was nominated for Best Play at the 2017 Tony Awards—combines pieces of Asch’s original drama with a biographical retelling and music, making a meta play-within-a-play-that’s-kind-of-a-musical-but-also-not.
In Indecent, Sholem Asch (Tendy) writes a play—God of Vengeance—about the love between a brothel owner’s daughter, Rifkele (Daly) and Manke (Meg Pyror), a prostitute. His wife, Madje (also played by Daly), is impressed with the play. Soon, it becomes popular throughout Europe and moves to Broadway. But Asch and the production face roadblocks when it reaches the Great White Way.
The seven actors in the play—which include PPT veteran Laurie Klatscher and Ricardo Vila-Roger, University of Pittsburgh Richard E. Rauh Teaching Artist-In-Residence—play more than 40 characters in total.
According to Daly, who plays eight of those 40 characters, different dialects and costumes help put her into the headspace of playing each role. But, finding similarities between the women she plays—their youth, their innocence, their struggle with intimacy, discovering what it means to be in love and how to express that—allow her to balance each character’s arc in the storyline.
“Actually coming from that place first has been helpful to say, ‘Okay, what do they have in common?’ and then kind of figuring out what makes them different,” she says.
According to Tendy, who plays six roles in total, it’s all about finding relationships between his characters and the other actors.
“I feel like you know if I have status over somebody in one scene but then the next scene they have status over me we can sort of nicely meet in the middle and play off each other and tell that story,” he says.
Tendy says that the play’s complexity—from themes of anti-Semitism and homosexuality to the play’s complicated narrative structure—also challenge the actors to reach a deeper humanity in their characters.
“It’s lots and lots of layers,” he says “And yet it can’t just be charactertures.”
Indecent also features three musicians onstage, blurring the lines between play and musical.
According to music director John McDaniel—a 1983 Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama graduate—the music’s underscoring heightens the tension and changes the mood of the show.
“They always say, ‘if you make them laugh, you can then you can go for the jugular and make them cry.’ So I think the music goes a long way in the seduction of the audience,” he says.
Along with playing multiple characters, the actors onstage sing and dance, making it feel like, “your brain is firing on all cylinders,” Daly says.
“I’ve been joking to Rob and my parents and everyone that grad school kind of felt like the training and this is the Olympics,” she says.
According to Tendy, this helps him imagine what it’s like to be one of the performers they play.
“The story is about a classic troupe of actors who have to do it all,” he says, “And we have to do it all.”