Good theater is supposed to inspire conversation and maybe even a little controversy. Playwrights like audiences to leave their seats with questions and comments, hopefully eager to discuss the play’s finer points or disturbing elements. Sometimes one leaves humming a title song or buzzing with excitement. One never knows and that’s half the fun of venturing into the theatrical unknown.
For Paula Vogel’s world premiere play within a play “Indecent,” we are invited into the lives of Sholem Asch and his wife Matl, snugly ensconced at the Yale Rep’s University Theatre, 222 York Street, New Haven until Saturday, October 24. While a violinist, folk dance, song and a father who is questioning his faith all figure prominently and the old world flavor and charm of the shtetl are clearly evident, this is not your grandfather’s “Fiddler on the Roof.”
The play’s origins began years ago when the director and co-creator Rebecca Taichman worked on a college thesis of the play “The God of Vengeance” by Asch and its legal complications. Penned by Sholem Asch in 1907, “The God of Vengeance” enjoyed an interesting and complicated journey from its first reading in a literary salon in Germany, its successful productions across Europe to its dramatic debut in America.
“Indecent” lets us be privy to that journey and those complications as an intrepid troupe of performers dedicates itself to bringing this controversial tale to the public. While it was cheered in places like Berlin, Rome and ST. Petersburg, this “daring play” confronting “contemporary moral values” led to the entire cast being arrested on obscenity charges when it premiered on Broadway in 1923.
“The God of Vengeance” deals with a devoted Jew who loves the Torah but also runs a brothel in the basement of his home. His virginal daughter Rifkele falls in love with a female prostitute Manke, a forbidden relationship that causes Papa to denounce both her and his religion.
A talented minyan of ten actors and musicians -Richard Topol as the stage manager, the actors Katrina Lenk, Mimi Lieber, Max Gordon Moore, Tom Nelis, Steven Rattazzi and Adina Verson and the musicians Lisa Gutkin, Aaron Halva and Travis W. Hendrix - bring this involving story to fervent life in an almost two hour production without intermission. For tickets ($20-98), call the Yale Rep at 203-432-1234 or online at www.yalerep.org. Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees on Wednesday and Saturday. The production will move to the La Jolla Playhouse in California, who is co-producing it, directly after its New Haven run.
Immerse yourself in this extraordinary theatrical production that wrestles with sin and with God, that bears witness to souls rising out of the ashes until they are returned dust to dust.