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It’s the Jewish “Shuffle Along.” Paula Vogel takes a forgotten but seminal work, Sholem Asch’s “The...

‘Indecent’ Theater Review: Who Knew Yiddish Theater Was So Gay-Friendly?

By 18:31:00

It’s the Jewish “Shuffle Along.” Paula Vogel takes a forgotten but seminal work, Sholem Asch’s “The God of Vengeance,” and tells the backstory of its incredible journey in her new play, “Indecent,” which opened Tuesday at Off Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre.

In his recently opened Broadway musical, George C. Wolfe resurrected a hit 1921 musical, “Shuffle Along,” giving a rich behind-the-scenes history of its African American creative team but little of the original plot.

Vogel gives us much of Asch’s plot in her new play, and what a story it is! “The God of Vengeance,” which bombed the year after “Shuffle Along” opened, featured a story so controversial that its producer and cast were found guilty of giving immoral performances.

A respected Jewish businessman keeps a brothel in the basement of his home. His wife is an ex-hooker, and the two set out to prevent their daughter from learning the sordid truth. Instead, she falls in love with one of the female prostitutes, and the play ends with dad hurling the Torah at her.

This is Broadway circa 1922?

The story, as told by Vogel, gets better. “The God of Vengeance” actually had its world premiere in 1907 in Berlin, and after traveling throughout Europe it opened in New York City in a Yiddish theater on the lower East Side. There were no censorship problems even when it was translated into English and played the historic Provincetown Theater in Greenwich Village in 1918. Only when it went to Broadway did the censors descend.

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