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Photograph: Carol RoseggIndecent

A rare chance to see a piece of gay theater history for free this summer

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman

It’s a great time for lesbians on Broadway. Women who love women are at the core of two Broadway musicals, Fun Home and The Color Purple; the misfortune-prone Aimee is a central character in Stephen Karam’s The Humans, and Mama Morton is still stomping through the cell blocks in Chicago. But it was not always thus.

In 1923, Sholem Asch’s Yiddish drama God of Vengeance—which included the first lesbian kiss in Broadway history—was raided by the vice cops. Its producer and cast were convicted on charges of “unlawfully advertising, giving, presenting, and participating in an obscene, indecent, immoral, and impure drama or play.” Even then, this kind of prosecution was incredibly rare; in fact, God of Vengeance’s verdict was only the second conviction under that law in New York history. (The first was 30 years earlier.)

The story of this scandalous production is told in Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman’s gorgeous new play, Indecent, which includes short excerpts from God of Vengeance. But now New Yorkers can see Asch's play itself in its entirety, free of charge, in the language it was originally written. On June 25 and 26 at 7pm, at the 14th Street Y, the Jewish Plays Project will conclude its Open festival with two staged readings of Asch’s groundbreaking and irreverent drama. Eleanor Reissa will direct the readings, and also appear in the cast alongside Shane Baker (as a nasty brothel owner) and New Yiddish Rep’s David Mandelbaum, whose company has announced plans to produce a full revival of the play later this season. Performances are in Yiddish, with English subtitles. Admission is free, but you’ll need to reserve seats here.

God of Vengeance closed a few weeks following the raid—the New York Times refused to run advertisements for it after the indictment—and has not been on Broadway since. In June, welcome it back to a changed New York City with a big, warm kiss.

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