When I saw “Indecent” off-Broadway (See Search for review), I had not yet seen the Sholem Asch’s Yiddish play “God of Vengeance,” about which Paula Vogel wrote ‘Indecent,” an exploration of the creation of “God of Vengeance” and the controversy that surrounded it. Subsequently, I saw a mounting of “God of Vengeance” in Yiddish (See Search for that review) and was fascinated by the drama that involved two lesbians kissing and a pious Jew running a whorehouse. It was performed in many European venues and off-Broadway, but when it reached Broadway in 1923, even though the controversial scene was edited, the cast was arrested, although the case was tossed on appeal. Now, seeing “Indecent” in its Broadway incarnation, I find Vogel’s riff having more impact in comparison as drama than the Yiddish play, when viewed today, does, even though that drama was so startling in its time.
Although it could use some serious trimming, Vogel’s play with music is excitingly staged under Rebecca Taichman’s direction—-she is credited as co-creator with Vogel—-and it makes the most of elements in “God of Vengeance” with dramatic illustrations, yet has an expansive take on the play by Asch, the obstacles he faced and his attempt to shed himself of the play’s burden as his reputation widened in the artistic world beyond his Yiddish roots in Europe.
On entering the theater one observes seven actors and three musicians seated at the rear of the stage. (Why they just can’t enter when the actual play begins annoys me, as their silent waiting through the audience seating process is useless.) In any event, once the production gets going all is redeemed by the excellent performances of the contingent, just as the same ensemble achieved off-Broadway.
Max Gordon Moore again plays young Asch in Warsaw when he stages a reading of his play to the horror of those who are outraged by lesbians, whores and use of the Torah as a gift to keep a daughter pure before she goes wayward. There is enough to offend everybody. However, a tailor named Lemml, again brilliantly portrayed by Richard Topol, is impressed and becomes the play’s stage manager, as well as narrator in the staging of “Indecent.”
The yet-to-come Holocaust hovers over the work as the cast members sprinkle ash from their sleeves, and in climactic scenes they are branded with yellow Jewish stars and walking in a line to doom. The kissing scenes between the women are staged in a downpour of rain, with Adina Verson and Katrina Lenk again in the roles. Verson also doubles as Asch’s wife who in the early scenes is enthusiastic about what he has written.
As you can gather, this is very much a group effort, with the ensemble also including Mimi Lieber, Tom Nelis and Steven Rattazzi, as well as the talented multi-instrument musicians, Matt Darriau, Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva, who blend into the drama and action and overall atmosphere, which music and song help to create, along with the choreography by David Dorfman. Translations are flashed when Yiddish is spoken.
The situation cries out for a double biil, with “God fo Vengeance” staged in all its ahead-of-its-time emotional drama, and then followed by Vogel’s take on its creation. It would make for a grand if lengthy combination. A the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 19, 2017.