With Her Eerily Timely “Indecent,” Paula Vogel Unsettles American Theatre Again

By Daniel Pollack-Pelzner

When the Yiddish writer Sholem Asch presented his play “God of Vengeance” at a Warsaw salon in 1906, his mentor, I. L. Peretz, told him to burn it. It’s a shtetl tragedy: a Jewish brothel owner buys a Torah to celebrate his daughter’s wedding to a scholar, but, when he learns that his daughter has fallen in love with one of his prostitutes, he casts her and the Torah down into the brothel. Asch ignored his mentor’s warnings: he found a star in more permissive Berlin to play the father, and the production became a controversial success, touring across Europe. It was a hit in New York, too, first on the Lower East Side and, eventually, in an abridged English translation, at the Apollo Theatre, where it featured the first lesbian kiss on Broadway. But a leading Reform rabbi, fearful that airing Jewish transgressions could prove dangerous in a climate of rising xenophobia, when Henry Ford’s newspaper was denouncing Jews as un-American, rallied a campaign against the play. Shortly after opening night, in March, 1923, the entire cast of “God of Vengeance” was indicted for “an indecent, immoral, and impure theatrical performance.” Asch was too distraught by pogroms in Europe to raise much of a defense for his early work. After the Holocaust, he rejected the play entirely, refusing to authorize any more productions.

See the rest of the story at newyorker.com

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