It is unsurprising, given Indecent’s fundamental conceit of metatextuality, that content, theme and form would be as profoundly interwoven as they are, documenting, re-enacting and, in many respects salvaging the creation of Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance, its performance and re-writing, and all the social, romantic, juridical and political catalysiations and conflicts surrounding its various productions.
As with the crucial logics of space in God of Vengeance itself, where questions of identity, responsibility, piety, vulgarity, faith, language and love are vainly delineated by evermore permeable architectural partitions, so too does Indecent reveal borders as containing both within themselves further points of separation, but also many points of access, however illegitimate. Alliances are forged and broken, identities and, indeed actors and roles, exchanged in a way that assuredly parallels Angels in America’s quasi-Hegelianism, but ultimately presents the cultural dialogue between Jewish and Christian, (but also Jewish conservative and Jewish liberal), Europe and the USA (but also Polish and German, Greenwich Village and Broadway) etc as being at least as much a process of recurrence as negation.
The final lingering scene of queer exhaltation – the embattled “rain scene” – happens, untranslated, in its original Yiddish. Rather than the defiant futurity expressed by – and indeed owed to – of a 1990 man, living with AIDS, announcing the continuation of the Great Work in a post-Soviet world that “only spins forward,” Indecent defiantly looks back to a great work already present in the pre-Soviet world of 1906. Exhausted by all the controversies of translation and its unjust sacrificing in aid of an ultimately fruitless cause, God of Vengeance’s rain scene is celebrated as a moment of culturally specific, undiluted and unapologetically joyful exodus from the concerns of homophobic, antisemitic bias. And yet, it is above all within this moment of wilfully performative solipsism that the holistic phusis of queer love becomes most apparent.
Indeed, our ever-growing suspicion (however sympathetic) of Asch’s role as author throughout Indecent, from his introductory eyeroll-inducing announcement that he would have no opposition to his wife revealing lesbian tendencies, dependent upon his permission to be an audience to them, to his unwillingness to support his cast as they are indicted for obscenity (crucially, he was not), to his refual to allow further productions of God of Vengeance in light of his pursuit by HUAC, may now indeed contribute to this feeling of liberation. It is by no mistake that the man who has played the various incarnations of Yekel plays the final incarnation of Asch, for Asch is the father of God of Vengeance who likewise similarly spurned his creation. Just as so many queers of so many cultures, colours and creeds have found themselves cast out of their families, Indecent’s presentation of history displays a wholly comprehensive ambivalence towards genealogy. The rain scene’s power at the end is entirely reflective of its parentless status, as indeed it was in God of Vengeance, also. As with the diasporic nature of Jewish and queer identity, to be wholly self-reflexive and wholly universal is by no means a self-defeating contradiction. Infused with the beauty of unrestrained queer love, existing despite a century of controversy, rejection and even genocide, is the declaration אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה. ’Ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh. We remember that “I am what I am” is not only an iconic exclamation of queer self-acceptance, but it is also a name of God.