The United Indecency of America | Sojourners

The United Indecency of America

A play gains new significance in a grieving city during troubled times.
Photo: A scene from the Tony-nominated play “Indecent.”

PAULA VOGEL WON the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for drama for “How I Learned to Drive” and is a veteran playwright of the American stage. But it wasn’t until 2017 that she finally made her way to Broadway with another of her prize-winning plays: the Tony Award-nominated “Indecent.”

“I wrote it as a love letter to the theater in 2015,” said Vogel, “and I never knew then how the play would resonate as strongly as it does today in these Trumped-up political times.”

“Indecent” tells the story of the theater troupe that performed Sholem Asch’s ill-fated Yiddish play “The God of Vengeance.” Premiering in 1922, “Vengeance” was the first play on Broadway to depict a lesbian love scene, causing a wave of notoriety everywhere it was performed. Asch’s play originated in Poland and tells the story of a Jewish brothel owner’s daughter who falls in love with one of his prostitutes. The father, on discovering his daughter’s forbidden love, throws the Torah down on the stage and banishes his daughter to a life of prostitution.

Asch’s leading actor in Poland warned him not to produce the play, but the play went on a whirlwind tour of success across Europe, finally arriving to New York City’s Greenwich Village in 1922. Despite this, when the show opened on Broadway, it was severely censored. “Why did you agree to those cuts?” the stage manager, Lemml, asks Asch in “Indecent.” “You cut the love between those two girls. There’s only sex left!”

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