The original author of “Indecent,” now playing at the Huntington Avenue Theatre through May 25, was a poet living in a small village in Poland in the first decade of the last century.
Sholem Asch was newly married, young and hopeful that he had the talent to express himself not only in a few volumes of respectable verse but on the wider stage of drama, thereby impressing a larger audience with the passions that stirred his soul.
The birth then, of “Indecent” came not in English but in Yiddish. It was a drama titled “Got fun Nekome,” which translates to the melodramatic “God of Vengeance” starring a strong-minded Jewish father and brothel entrepreneur who was determined to marry his daughter to a learned and pious Jew in order to capture a higher social status than the one which bubbled so profitably, but, let’s face it, meanly, tucked away in the basement of his mansion.
The patriarch of this improbable household carries around on his shoulders a velvet and gold embroidered Torah which he lectures his subservient wife and wayward daughter proudly costs as much as the wages of all his prostitutes laboring on their backs in his basement for a whole year!
In every melodrama, there is an innocent soul threatened by wickedness but strengthened by virtue. In this case, as the title hints, God himself wreaks vengeance on the father by acting as a match-maker between his daughter and one of the father’s employees laboring away in their basement.
The hopeful poet from backwoods Poland brings his incendiary first play to the Jewish establishment in Warsaw and you can just guess what they thought of it.
Oy!!! Boy! We need like a rotten herring just as we are assimilating into an enlightened Europe a play about a hypocritical Jew who is trying to buy his way into heaven on the backs of his repressed laborers.
Nevertheless, with the enthusiasm of youth and talent, Sholem Asch shepherds a crew of enthusiastic if raw thespians through the capitals of Europe to great, if underground, acclaim.
And then, with the outbreak of World War 1, a playwright as ambitious as his protagonist the brothel owner, but idealistic rather than mercenary, takes his theater troupe to that metropolis of the future in the New World, New York City.
What can go wrong in this Harbor of New Ideas … except everything. The climate in Greenwich village is accepting, but uptown in Broadway, well, not so much.
Perhaps for success’ sake it would be better says their new manager, with a finger to the winds of moral repression, not to mention xenophobia, if we teased out the love scene between women etcetera … etcetera.
Paula Vogel is a master playwright who has re-tailored this well-tailored play of our last century’s new beginnings to this century’s beginnings. We are, as contemporary audience, both here and there, thanks to director Rebecca Taichman’s production for this Huntington Theatre Company Boston run. The time travel could be head-spinning, except for a brio of joy, located in music and dance, in sterling acting that locates us in the human heart’s “true north” and every other direction that can possibly be encompassed on stage, in life, here, there and everywhere.
(Paula Vogel’s “Indecent” continues through May 25 at the Avenue of the Arts/Huntington Avenue Theatre; for more information, call (617) 266-7900 or visit huntingtontheatre.org.)