Last year I saw a production of God of Vengeance a serial play by Sholem Asch originally performed on the LES, in Yiddish, but when transfered to Broadway in 1923, the cast was jailed and labeled as “indecent” for presenting Lesbianism on stage for the first time. Indecent is the new work by playwright Paula Vogel, being presented at the Vineyard Theatre. It takes on God of Vengeance and the consequences that production, created. Ms. Vogel and the wonderful director Rebecca Taichman, have created a powerful piece that almost seems like a dance.
The symbolism of ash flowing from the selves of the performers is utilized by David Doorman’s stylized movements. This cast is seamless as they tell the tale of Jewish culture, theatrical history and homosexuality, which ends in a devastating way.
It is 1906 and we first meet Sholem (Max Gordon Moore) in a Warsaw apartment and the reading of the play God of Vengeance. For this who do not know this play it is about a brothel owner and his daughter. His wife is an ex-prostitute and along with his seventeen-year-old daughter, live above the brothel downstairs. The brothel has made the man prosperous, but he aspires to something more—respectability, and towards that end, he hopes to marry his precious daughter to a Talmudic scholar. His daughter strikes up a friendship with the most-desired prostitute and the two begin a love affair that develops and finalizes in a rainstorm.
In Indecent Sholem’s wife and actress Madje (Adina Verson) plays the young daughter, as the play is ostracized by the Jewish community, but is beloved throughout Europe. During the play all the actress playing the daughter fall for the actress playing the prostitute (Katrina Lenk). When Lemml (Richard Tool), the tailor hears the play, he is deeply moved and becomes committed to the production and the stage manager for the play. Famed actor Rudolph Schildkraut (Tom Nelis) stars, giving the show a name attached to it. When, God of Vengeance comes to New York, it is successful in Yiddish, but the move uptown thanks to producer Harry Weinberger (Steven Rattazzi) has disastrous effects when presented in English at the Provincetown Playhouse. The show is re-written to become more commercial and eliminates the lesbian subplot, which is the heart of the show. Sholem agrees not having command of the english language, his wife is replaced and the other cast members, along with the stage manager are furious at the changes. The cast and producer are charged with obscenity and the show closes in one day.
Ms. Taichman uses projections to indicate if the language is English, German or Yiddish. She also uses it to tell the passing of time, which is quite clever and keeps us in the clear about what is going on. Klezmer songs and music by Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva, along with dances keep the story light and flowing. It is almost the same technique used in Cabaret to establish the jovial mood covering the horrors to come. Asch, becomes beyond depressed when he travels to Europe and sees what anti-Semitism has wroth. He comes back never to return to Europe. His performers and stage manager do not escape fate and end up back home presenting the play until their death.
Indecent’s cast, director’s and play are first rate. It is hard to single out anyone, because this is a true collaborative effort. My only draw back to this play is it seems to have three ending and that takes away from the power of the piece. When you realize the cast, except of the playwright died in the Holocaust it is heartbreaking. I mean you know this from the very beginning but it hits home. Then we go and learn the fate of Sholem, which could have been cut and then we see the two female characters kiss and escape in the rain, which is beautiful. The show would have been more powerful to see that, then realize that they all passed.
No matter what this is a show not to miss. It is powerfully acted and beautifully staged.
Indecent: Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th St. closes June 19th.