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A Journey of Passion

From 'God of Vengeance' to 'Indecent'

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The company of Paula Vogel’s “Indecent.”

Photo by Craig Schwartz.

From the earliest productions of God of Vengeance to the similar rediscoveries of the work by both playwright Paula Vogel and director Rebecca Taichman, Indecent represents the culmination of over 100 years of social, cultural, religious, and theatrical history. For greater context, here are some of the milestones of the creation and production of both Indecent and God of Vengeance:

1907

In Warsaw, Sholem Asch reads his new play, Got fun Nekome (God of Vengeance), for the founding father of modern Yiddish literature, I. L. Peretz. Disturbed by what he takes to be the play’s misrepresentation of Jewish piety, Peretz counsels Asch to burn it.

Got fun Nekome opens in St. Petersburg and Moscow, where it is celebrated, and then in New York where the left-wing newspapers defend its gritty sophistication, while the Orthodox papers decry it for fanning anti-Semitic stereotypes.

1914

With the outbreak of World War I, Sholem Asch leaves Europe for New York. After the war, he visits Europe and is shaken by the destruction of Jewish communities.

1921

The Emergency Quota Act severely reduces the number of immigrants permitted into the US from Eastern and Southern Europe.

1921–1922

A movement to prevent lewdness on the stage gathers force against popular farces on Broadway.

1922

Isaac Goldberg’s English translation of God of Vengeance opens at the Provincetown Playhouse in New York City before moving to the larger Greenwich Village Theatre.

1923

February 19God of Vengeance opens on Broadway at the Apollo Theater. The passionate scene in the rain is cut from this production, changing the women’s relationship from one of love to manipulation.

March 8—Mid-performance, a police detective informs the cast and producer that they are under indictment for obscenity. The next morning, the company posts bail and returns to the theatre in time for the matinee.

March 8—The company of God of Vengeance goes on trial and is found guilty. The verdict is overturned on appeal.

1924

The National Origins Act restricts immigration even further; the Asian Exclusion Act lives up to its name. The Society for Human Rights is founded as the first organization in the US that seeks equality for homosexuals. Police pressure soon shuts it down.

1926

New York State passes the Wales Padlock Law, prohibiting plays “dealing with the subject of sex degeneracy or perversion.” This law, not declared unconstitutional until 1976, leaves LGBTQ characters to be portrayed as symbols of vice, corruption, and evil.

Early 1940s

Got fun Nekome is performed in the Łódiz´ Ghetto where an estimated 160,000 Jews are sealed off from the world.

1942

Nazi officials discuss the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question,” and the industrial genocide begins. With news of the murderous destruction of European Jewry, Sholem Asch forbids future performances of Got fun Nekome.

1943

Sholem Asch is the first Yiddish writer to be nominated for the Nobel Prize.

1956

Sholem Asch dies. His home in Bat Yam, Israel now houses the Sholem Asch Museum. Yale University holds his archive.

1974

Playwright Paula Vogel, then a 22-year-old graduate student at Cornell University, reads God of Vengeance at the suggestion of her professor.

1997

While a first-year student at the Yale School of Drama, Rebecca Taichman discovers God of Vengeance and writes her thesis on the obscenity trial.

2002

Under the leadership of then-Artistic Director Michael Ritchie, Donald Margulies adapts God of Vengeance for a Williamstown Theatre Festival production.

2010

Rebecca Taichman calls Paula Vogel to collaborate on a play about that obscenity trial, which would later become Indecent.

2013

Indecent receives a developmental production at the Sundance Institute Theatre Program.

2015–2016

The World premiere of Indecent is staged at Yale Repertory Theatre, followed by a production at the La Jolla Playhouse. Indecent opens Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre.

2017

Indecent opens at the Cort Theatre on Broadway, 94 years after the Broadway premiere of God of Vengeance.

Timeline includes contributions by Alisa Solomon. Sources/further reading: John J. Houchin, Censorship of the American Theatre in the Twentieth Century; Alisa Solomon, Re-Dressing the Canon: Essays on Theater and Gender, Nina Warnke “God of Vengeance: The 1907 Controversy over Art and Morality,” in ed. Stahl Sholem Asch Reconsidered; Zalmen Zyblercweig, Leksikon fun Yidishn teater
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