On & Off Broadway


Review by Elyse Trevers


Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Paula Vogel has finally made it to Broadway. After a sold-out, acclaimed run at The Vineyard, her play Indecent has opened at The Cort Theater.

Indecent tells the story of Sholem Asch's only play, God of Vengeance, the love story of two women. Vogel's drama follows the Yiddish theater troupe from the successful presentations of the play in Europe and Russia and downtown NY until it was presented uptown. When the play opened on Broadway, the cast was arrested, indicted and convicted of obscenity.

God of Vengeance centers on the owner of a Jewish brothel who attempts to buy respectability for his daughter by purchasing a Torah and getting her a religious husband. However, the young virginal daughter falls in love with one of her father's prostitutes.

In Vogel's imagining of the story, Asch is a major character and when he first presents his work to a group of Polish writers, they are appalled at the way he presents Jews, fearing that the play will fuel anti-Semitism.

This concern seems to be one of the themes of the play because years later it is a NY rabbi who calls the authorities to stop the presentation of the play. Ironically, the controversial love scene had already been excised from the uptown version.

Directed by Rebecca Taichman, Indecent features a talented ensemble of 10 performers, some of whom play multiple roles and others are musicians. Only Lemml (Richard Topol), who becomes the stage manager, has a name and serves as the narrator and spokesman for the troupe. The others include the wonderful Katina Lenk (The Band’s Visit) and Adina Verson.

The play tries to cover too much and at times it feels long. Much of the play centers on Asch himself and his depression at the treatment of the Jews. His last scene shows an embittered Asch leaving the country after being sanctioned by the Committee on Un-American Activities. Vogel deals with Asch, Jewish paranoia, The Holocaust and The God of Vengeance, all within 100 minutes.

The show is creatively presented and that is its strength. Words presented on the screen onstage often tell us that the characters are speaking "In English" as the Yiddish translation appears beneath. Time passes as “A Blink in Time.”

Indecent makes you realize how mores and sensibilities have changed. Two women kissing onstage would hardly cause a raised eyebrow today, let alone an obscenity charge. Yet, sadly, so much, namely the fear and hatred amongst people, has stayed the same and perhaps that’s the real message.