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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Chronicling the birth, journey and surrounding infamy of God of Vengeance, writer Paula Vogel and director Rebecca Taichman have crafted a hymn to the powers/dangers of creativity and dissent. And a highly entertaining one at that. Blending period specific music and vaudeville and performed "poor man's theater-style" on a nearly empty stage at the La Jolla Playhouse, this re-mount of the Yale Repertory Theatre production celebrates the institution of live theater and the people who are willing to give their life to it. Curtainup review of the world premiere )
Somewhat ironically, as posited by Indecent, Sholem Asch was not one of those people. At the turn of the century, the Polish-born writer/philosopher basically dropped God of Vengeance (his first play) into the zeitgeist of socio-political thought, followed the play's progress from afar, and then holed himself up in seclusion once things started to boil over.
Early in the play, Max Gordon Moore's Asch burns with the fires of idealism as the early draft of his play makes the rounds within I.L. Peretz's literary salon. On the page it was already incendiary. Yankl, a Jewish brothel owner looks to marry his virginal daughter Rifkele off to a Rabbinical scholar only to have her fall in love with Manke, one of the working girls. The downfall of Yankl's family galvanizes the loss of his faith, and he renounces both his daughter and his Torah. Peretz's advice to Asch at the salon where a few people refuse to even read parts aloud? "Burn it!" Once God of Vengeance starts getting staged the playwright largely drops out of the tale. Vogel and Taichman turn their attention instead to the performers: the company leader (Tom Nelis) who takes the part of Yankl, the actresses cast as Rifkele (Adina Verson) and Manke (Katrina Lenk) who become lovers offstage as well as in character, and the producer (Steven Rattazzi) who signs off on edits to the play in order to get it to Broadway. Representing the play's conscience is the stage manager Lemml (Richard Topol), a man with little education who champions the play when its author disappears.
With the aid of a trio of musicians (Lisa Gutkin, Aaron Halva and Travis W. Hendrix) who participate in the action, Indecency comes across as a pastiche of styles – part vaudeville, part drama, part documentary. Vogel peppers the mix with bits of Yiddish and certain key scenes from God of Vengeanceare replayed and reexamined for dramatic emphasis. The notorious "rain scene" between Rifkele and Manke closes the play. Given the love and tenderness with which Verson and Lenk infuse it, the scene carries a very different kind of charge for a contemporary audience than what must have so enraged the censors in 1923.
Taichman's spare and economical staging here is a far cry from the visual splendor she often brings to the works of Shakespeare. The director partners ably with Vogel, a daring playwright who seems to be exploring a different genre of storytelling here as well. Indecent feels less like an examination of a miscarriage of artistic justice than a heartfelt ode to lives changed by the stage. Censors or no censors, that's an evergreen subject.