My New Favorite Play: Indecent by Paula Vogel

See that text in the picture.  That’s a projection, a device that will be used throughout Paula Vogel’s wonderful new play Indecent.

There will be one towards the end that says “An impossibly long line.”  It will break my heart.

This is the fourth play C.J. and I have seen on our trip to New York and the first one to truly earn the standing ovation now given to literally every performance we’ve been to in nearly a decade.

This may lower me in the estimation of some, but I don’t care.  I cried at the end; I even cried a little on the street walking to the subway afterwards.  C.J. refused to talk to me for the entire ride home which was longer than usual due to repairs on the A and C lines.

He’s fine now.

Indecent is the true story of a play called The God of Vengence written by Polish author Scholem Asche who wrote in Yiddish, and the troupe of actors and stage hands who produced it, made it a hit all over Europe, and brought it to America in 1923 where it took the Bowery by storm.  Eventually, is was translated into English and performed on Broadway only to be shut down for indency, it entire cast arrested, tried and convicted.

But not before becoming the first Broadway play to feature a Lesbian kiss on stage.

After The God of Vengence closed in disgrace, some of the those involved stayed in America, but most returned to Europe where they continued to perform the play right up until the end, in this case the fall of the Lodz ghetto.  After the war, the playwright refused to allow performances of his work.

Paula Vogel’s play Indecent takes place on a bare stage but she, and the Tony Award winning director Rebecca Taichman use their actors, their musicians and several well placed bits of stage craft to bring the world of Yiddish theatre to life.  It’s part comedy, part history, part musical, part multi-media event which ends in a beautiful shower of real rain that broke my heart like only the best theatre can.

Ms. Vogel is a genius as working and reworking a theme.  She did this to perfection in the opening and closing moments of her first big play, How I Learned to Drive, which C.J. and I saw nearly 20 years ago.  In Indecent she uses the famed “rain scene” in Act II of The God of Vengence. This scene features the young daughter of a brothel keeper in love with one of the women who forks for her father.  It’s their fist love scene, one from a play I never heard of before but one I’m now desparate  to see.  There’s a line the older woman says, “I want to wash your breasts in the rain,” that is both the most romantic and most erotic I’ve heard in many years.

We see this scene in awkward rehearsals, in moments when the two actresses are really falling in love, on Broadway and in an attic room in Lodz.  Finally we see it performed by ghosts, of a sort, characters who have escaped the history that killed so many of their troupe, performed in Yiddish as the play closes and as real rain pores down upon the stage.

If there was dry eye in the house it certainly wasn’t mine.

If by some chance you find yourself in New York before the play closes on August 6 after a run extended by popular demand, go see Indecent.