Written by Sholem Asch (1880–1952), one of the most prominent Yiddish writers of his day, the play God of Vengeance tells of a brothel keeper striving for respectability along with religious absolution for his life of sin. The current Broadway play Indecent tells the story of the Asch play, focusing on its production on the New York Yiddish stage, which was shut down for obscenity—specifically, a lesbian romance between the brothel keeper’s daughter and one of his employees. In her review, Ruth Wisse assails Indecent for misunderstanding both Asch’s work and its reception:
[A]s far as Indecent is concerned, God of Vengeance is a play about lesbians. Not only that, according to [its creators] Rebecca Taichman and Paula Vogel (both of whom are gay), lesbianism also defined the backstage drama of its performance history: they also depict the lesbian characters being played by lesbian actresses who live openly together as the play tours Europe and comes to America. The American censorship of the play was [supposedly] due to its depiction of lesbianism. And lest any gravestone be left unturned, Indecent takes us into a Polish ghetto in the final stages of Hitler’s Final Solution where starving and soon-to-be executed Jews perform the women’s love scene.
But this reduces God of Vengeance to a contemporary sexual-politics polemic when it is far more ambiguous and complicated than that. . . . Indecent has no real interest in either Asch’s play or the obscenity trial except to use them to provide fuel to make lesbianism once again seem daring and revolutionary.
Indecent purports to be part of the brave tradition of those who have stood up for their rights against social and political repression, but it actually demonstrates that those battles have been decisively won—else why would it have had to go to such lengths to dig up and distort the suppression of lesbianism in the past? This is theater by and for those who don’t yet know how to accept responsibilities for freedoms attained and who pretend instead that they are still part of the struggle to attain them.