Sholem Asch’s Yiddish-language play The God of Vengeance (1907) provides most of the context for this contemporary work. Asch was born in Poland. He owed much of his early fame to The God of Vengeance, which was created in German at Berlin’s Deutsches Theater before being presented in may other countries, including the United States, where it was produced on Broadway, at the Apollo Theatre, in 1923.
The play was (and probably still is) controversial because of the way it mixes religion with sexuality and other profane themes. Paula Vogel has used a rather common theatrical device by having a “generic” troupe of actors portray Asch’s friends and family as well as various actors that presented The God of Vengeance over the years. In doing so, she has managed to touch subtly on many sensitive issues… although one might wonder in the end what Indecent is truly about (assuming a play has to be about something).
The staging is an integral part of the conceit of the play… and it’s doubtful Indecent could ever be presented in any other fashion. It’s inspired, sometimes a little pretentious, sometimes very powerful in its ability to literally suspend time. The play-within-a-play device works wonders, repeatedly.
The cast is wonderful… but Richard Topol’s performance as Lemml, the simple tailor who falls in love with The God of Vengeance and becomes a life-long advocate of the play, has to be singled out for its honesty and generosity.
There is a particularly striking moment in the play which reminds us that, as Jews were sent to their deaths by thousands in Europe during WWII, the rest of the World was sometimes trying to think happier thoughts. It doesn’t appear to be meant as a judgment, just as an observation on History… but it does deliver a powerful punch. That’s what good theatre does.
By Paula Vogel.
Directed by Rebecca Taichman. With Katrina Lenk, Mimi Lieber, Max Gordon Moore, Tom Nelis, Steven Rattazzi, Richard Topol, Adina Verson, Matt Darriau, Lisa Gutkin, Aaron Halva.