Open-Hearted Indecent Fills the Ahmanson

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater

It may be no coincidence that the playwright Sholom Asch wrote God of Vengeance, revealing desire between two women in a repressive Jewish orthodox community, at a time when Sigmund Freud’s ground-breaking studies in human sexuality had culminated in the publication of his “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” in 1905. Asch’s play, written in Yiddish, had a more limited audience, yet attempts to suppress it only increased its sensationalism.

In New York, an English translation brought the play to Broadway, only to be shut down for indecency, thus the title of Paula Vogel’s exquisite rendering of real events stretching from 1906 until the 1940’s. Her play centers on the trajectory of a theatrical event, but our hearts bleed for the brave troupe that performed it.

At the Ahmanson, the Huntington Theatre Company co-production fills the stage with kaleidoscopic choreography by David Dorfman, staging scenes from God of Vengeance along with the time-line leading up to and away from the sensational obscenity trial in 1923. From the start, we are intrigued. Our guide, Lemml (Richard Topol), informs us that “I can never remember the ending,” but begins with a celebration, where, oddly, the actors jig and sing as dust pours from their clothing.

The production gains historical distance through the lighted proscenium, designed by Riccardo Hernandez with projections by Tal Yarden, while costumer Emily Rebholz’s on-point, period outfits pull us through the years. Director Rebecca Taichman, who collaborated with Vogel on the creation of the play, recreates a sense of rich Yiddish culture, and Dorfman’s choreography adds with tones of Fiddler on the Roof. Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva’s original music reinforces the authenticity of the tale. Employing theatrical “blinks in time” to move through time and space, Vogel saves for last a recreation of Vengeance’s celebrated rain scene. At last, we can immerse ourselves in the exquisite beauty of Asch’s torrent of words.

Indecent continues through July 7th, 2019, performing Tuesdays through Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm; Sundays at 1 pm and 6:30 pm (with an added 2 p.m. performance on Wednesday, July 5 – no performance on July 4) at Ahmanson Theater, located in the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles 90012. Tickets range from $30.00 to $155.00 online at, or in person at Center Theatre Group box office.