When Sholem Asch wrote his play God of Vengeance in 1907, he was not yet established as one of the major figures of 20th-century Yiddish literature. The play became famous, in part, because of a scene in which two women kiss. (In 1923, after the play was performed in English on Broadway, the entire cast was arrested for obscenity.) The scandal that surrounded the play is the topic of a new play, Indecent, now at the Yale Repertory Theater. Josh Lambert writes in his review:
Indecent insists on itself as artifice, confection, . . . which is fitting, because what remains fascinating about God of Vengeance is that it was a work of pure fiction, the product of Asch’s imagination, which had profound effects in the real world. One of the most striking moments in Indecent is a brilliant bit of staging as [the] actors perform the final, heart-wrenching lines of God of Vengeance—in which the brothel-owning father heaves his daughter, and the Torah scroll he has bought for her, down into the cellar—four times, rotating them 90 degrees each time.
It’s as if we’re watching it first from the wings and backstage, and only finally seeing the conventional perspective the fourth time. This turns Asch’s moment of high drama into comedy—funny because it grants us a palpable sense of the uncanniness that theater companies must experience as they perform an intensely emotional crescendo night after night.