“Indecent” is Pulitzer Prize Winning Lesbian playwright Paula Vogel’s masterpiece. This great American playwright has finally found her voice at age 68 and her greatest triumph. “Indecent” is now at the Cort Theater on Broadway and long may it run. As long as “Fiddler on the Roof,” which it strangely resembles, though it is really a straight play with a lot, and I mean a lot, of joyous songs and dances in Yiddish . Perfectly, flawlessly executed under director/collaborator Rebecca Taichman’s masterful hand.
At this point in my LONNNNG, career as also a gay playwright, actor, director and critic, I thought I knew every gay and lesbian play backwards and forwards and inside out, four ways to Sunday and back again. But “Indecent” shocked me, not by its’ touching, almost reticent depiction of Lesbian-Jewish love at the turn of the last century. (1907 to be exact), but by the fact that “Indecent” is a play-within-a-play-within-in play and that play was the first successful lesbian play just about ever.
And it was written by a newly married heterosexual Jewish playwright Sholem Asch and called “Got fun Nekome” or “God of Vengeance.” “Indecent” is a celebration and almost a complete re-staging of this incredibly important, seminal, nearly lost GLBT play. We see scenes from it acted out and re-acted endlessly.
It’s certainly one of the best plays of the year, and the most pertinent in this era of incipient terror that is upon us. “Indecent” couldn’t be more timely, or more beautiful. And it’s simple, so simple, and yet utterly complex. So complex, it has sub-titles or super-titles above the action telling us what, when and in what language, the present scene is taking place. It’s a very nifty device, and the shifting Yiddish/English text is glorious in its’ magnificent execution.
It’s ensemble cast of seven, plus three on-stage actor/musicans, is flawless. And the story and history of “God of Vengeance” is unbelievably dramatic and true.
Of course it was banned and the cast jailed when they LAST tried to do it on Broadway in 1923. By that time “God of Vengenance” had been a hit all over Europe and also in the Yiddish theater here in New York. But they hit the proverbial wall uptown when they were declared “Obscene, indecent, immoral and impure” and shut down immediately.
It’s ninety minutes and a harrowing delight. Let me add that the final song “Wiegala” heard near the play’s conclusion, was written by Ilse Klein, a nurse at the children’s hospital in Theresienstadt, one of the most notorious concentration camps. She sang this song as a lullaby for the children in the wards there before they were to be transported. It is said she sang this song in line to the gas chambers.Are you crying yet? I was. Yes, “Indecent” will move you to tears and to dance and sing and celebrate Paula Vogel’s breath-taking triumph of a life time.