“The purpose of theatre is to wound our memory so we can remember,”
writes Paula Vogel in the Playbill for Indecent. Currently running on Broadway in the
Cort Theatre, Indecent, written by Vogel and directed by Rebecca Taichman, was
nominated for several Tony Awards this year, including Best Play.
Indecent is a play about another play, God of Vengeance, and how it was
received when it was performed during the 1920s. God of Vengeance told the story
of a Jewish man who ran a brothel, and whose daughter fell in love with one of his
prostitutes. This play was the first on an American stage to present a kiss between
two women. It had a beautiful, pure love scene, often compared to Romeo and Juliet’s
balcony scene, depicting these two women enjoying the rain. A main character in
Indecent, Sholem Asch (writer of God of Vengeance) experiences dismay when his
play is not well received by his community of Jewish writers in Warsaw, for in a time
of strong anti-Semitism, any depiction of Jews as less than upstanding members of
their community was a strike against them. Asch responds by taking the play
touring throughout Europe (where it was better received), and eventually to New
York. Then, in 1923, shortly after God of Vengeance’s Broadway opening, the
producer and all of the cast were arrested and convicted of obscenity.
Indecent is a play that tugs on your heartstrings; it is truly a play that
“wounds” its audience in the hope that they can learn something from the past. It is
particularly moving because it shows that the actors were very devoted to God of
Vengeance and faced many challenges in performing the show: besides the obscenity
trial, the romantic rain scene is cut during one production, dramatically shifting the
tone of the play from love to manipulation. The cast returned to Europe during the
1930s and continued to perform, despite the increasing danger of Hitler’s Final
Solution, and even performed while in hiding, hoping to inspire their desperate
audiences. Finally, the cast was discovered and all perished in concentration camps.
The overall tone of Indecent is not entirely depressing—moments of comedy
and music lighten the mood—but the flawless direction makes the ordeals borne by
the characters resound deeply. One memorable scene depicts a Jewish writer
pleading outside the gates of the United Nations. This man, at first, is begging to
speak to the English ambassador, but is not received. He then begins switching
languages, from English to French to Russian and finally to Chinese, and grows more
and more desperate as in each language he is denied admittance. Asch stands next
to him, reading a letter that he received from this man, pleading with Asch to use his
influence to stress to the U.S. government the dire situation of the Jews in Nazioccupied
Europe. This scene was evocative of the hardships of Jews during this time,
because their pleas were unheard, just like members in the audience couldn’t
understand all the switching languages.
It’s hard not to relate Indecent’s themes of fear, xenophobia, homophobia,
and anti-Semitism to our current politics. Vogel states that “theatre is a living
memory,” and Indecent certainly leaves you questioning what you would devote
your life to, and in light of the fate of the cast of God of Vengeance, what you would
give your life for.
Context: This is a monologue based on the play Indecent, written by Paula Vogel. The person speaking is Sholem Asch, the writer of God of Vengeance, the play on which Indecent is based. This takes place just after Asch did a reading of his play, and the play was rejected.
I can’t believe them! They hated my play! Those men wouldn’t know a great play if it was staring them in the face!
They cannot stand the thought that maybe we are not all perfect citizens. “We have to stand up for our own.” Easy to say when all you do is sit there and tear down the dreams of writers like me, just to make sure your vision of Jews remains inoffensive to gentiles.
I saw something more real within us Jews, that must be shared with the world. That’s why I wrote my God of Vengeance. We must accept that some of us do grievous wrongs. So, what if people hate us?! They are going to hate us whether we give them a reason or not! All I tried to do in God of Vengeance was show the purest love imaginable between two people, and obstacles in their way. Just because their circumstances aren’t normal, you hated them! You think that just because these characters aren’t real that they don’t have real problems? These characters are more real than any of the men in this room, they’re more passionate and more loving.
Gentiles think we think that we’re better than them. If only they could see this play, see the love between these two women, how they are together in the face of terrible adversity. Then maybe they could understand that we don’t try to portray ourselves as ideal, but as real people.
Change is coming. There is nothing you can do to stop it! These old men are stuck in a time when we were laughed at when we walked down the street, when gentiles would point and say “Look! That’s a Jew!” We were not thought of as equals to the gentiles, but as curiosities. We were made to change ourselves so we looked like the gentiles. In that time, we did all we could to show ourselves as good people. Every time a Jew wrote about Jews he would make
them virtuous and perfect. It didn’t work. Gentiles still see us as different, as beings not worthy
of their attention or respect.
My play is a masterpiece of love. It will be spoken of and performed for generations!
People will come from miles around to hear of the passion between Manke and Rifkele. Just
because you can’t see the beauty and purity in their love doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Just
because I don’t show our people the way everyone else does doesn’t mean I am against our
kind. I am proud to call myself a Jew, and my play does not diminish this fact. My God of
Vengeance is a true work of art, one that must be performed!
We can’t keep hiding behind images of our people other Jewish writers create. That’s
why I wrote God of Vengeance! You wouldn’t understand it, because you are all too happy to
stay here and hope that one day you will be accepted by gentiles as their equals, even though
they hate you more every day. I cannot stand by and let that happen! I will take my play to
Berlin. Maybe there God of Vengeance will get the appreciation it deserves.
“Not my president! Not my president! Love trumps hate! Love trumps hate!”
“Hey, hey, hey! LISTEN UP FOR A MINUTE!”
My life is just…waking up at dawn and heading to the factories. I’ve worked at the Carrier Air Conditioning factory here in Michigan for 17 years. Everyday, I clock in at 5:30 A.M. to get to work. It’s the only thing I’m good at. I dropped out of school at 16, biggest mistake of my life. I need this job.
Only problem is, Carrier Air Conditioning announced earlier this year that they were moving our factory and our jobs to Mexico.
This is insult to injury, as many immigrants are already taking jobs meant for hard working Americans like me! And this means disaster for my family and my kids. I am certainly getting laid off when the factory closes. My wife relies on disability checks and my father is ill. I cannot lose my job. It seems like this always happens to me and my fellow hard workers – we work our asses off day and night, and then we get thrown under the bus by greedy corporations looking to turn a profit faster and easier. And the government doesn’t do jack shit about it!
“YOU’RE A RACIST!” “BLACK LIVES MATTER!”
HEY! I voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. He said he was for change, and said he would take care of the middle class, but he didn’t live up to those expectations. I feel like the American people, me included, are at the point where they’ve had it, and this was the last chance. Crooked Hillary would just be an extension of the 8 years of empty promises and pandering we’ve already had. We’re sick of feeling forgotten!
I’m tired of corruption and lies in Washington. I just want a non-politician like Trump. He gets that the country is in bad shape, especially for people like me. Sure, he made mistakes and sometimes he went a little overboard, but the guys I work with related to it. They think he speaks his mind and isn’t “PC” about the illegals and how we need law and order in the inner cities. If we spoke in public as often as he did, we’d make mistakes too. Let’s all give him a break and a chance.
I am very distrustful of our government as we know it today. Democrats, Republicans, they’re all corrupt liars. I know Trump will bring back jobs like mine and restore America to it’s greatest times. We need him! But I’m gonna hold him to all of his promises, that’s for sure.
“Are you going to say grace?”
“Me? I’m not even religious. Can you pass the Chef Boyardee?”
“Actually, this can isn’t name-brand. I found it in the trash. And I can’t pass it to you, I have no arm. Afghanistan, remember?”
I watched the discussion from across the table. I watched as some of them took a bite of their turkey, a spoonful of their mashed potatoes, and then their shaky fingers wrapped around the needle. I don’t blame any of them. It’s easy to fall into meth’s trap. Speed. Benny. Ice. Glass. Crank. Whatever you want to call it.
First they give it to you for free. To get a lifelong customer. What business do you know that gives you a product for free? Little do you know that you’ll eventually pay with your life.
It’s more insidious than alcohol, too, more gradual. First it was just a monthly thing, then a weekly thing. Before I knew it, I needed it just to function. Just to vacuum the carpet, just to carry on with my day. One night of being vulnerable put me in this position.
“Where did Don go? He said he was going to the bathroom two hours ago. Is he constipated or something?”
“Probably shooting up some more. It won’t take long until his heart stops.”
They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step towards fixing it. It’s not about the feeling I get from meth, it’s the feeling I got from the first time. Magical. Euphoric. It was a sense of safety, alertness, happiness. All of my problems seemed insignificant. Suddenly, I was more productive, and awake – it was like the fog had been cleared from my head. It was like receiving a new pair of glasses. No, more than that, it was like opening my eyes after twenty-five years of them being glued shut. I saw the world in a different light. I saw the world in a different dimensions. It was like the sun had finally risen, and the rain had finally stopped, and I could breathe without any care in the world. God knows I’ll stop at nothing to recreate that feeling of bliss.
“Aren’t you going to take a hit?” This time, the comment was directed at me. A hand stretched out and gave me the needle.
I took a deep breath. “What have I got to lose?”