Skip to main content

Would Actors Go To Jail For Their Art?

The cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s ‘Indecent’ contemplates the censorship their characters faced

The cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s world-premiere production of

Photo by Carol Rosegg

Above: The cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s world-premiere production of "Indecent," a play inspired by Sholem Asch's "God of Vengeance."

La Jolla Playhouse's "Indecent" is about a play that was shut down for obscenity and got its cast thrown in jail after its 1923 Broadway premiere.

The controversial script was "God of Vengeance," written in 1906 by Yiddish author Sholem Asch. It depicts a Jewish brothel owner who loses his faith in God after his chaste daughter falls in love with a prostitute. Along with portraying disillusionment with religion, it also featured the first kiss between two women on a Broadway stage.

'Indecent' on KPBS

Here's more from the KPBS Midday Edition and Evening Edition interview with playwright Paula Vogel and director Rebecca Taichman.

The La Jolla Playhouse world premiere of "Indecent" follows the history of Asch's story and paints a picture of the actors who risked their careers to perform it.

Almost a century later, Broadway celebrates diverse and controversial stories, including "Fun Home" and "The Book of Mormon." Actors can portray same-sex relationships and can make light of religion without fear of arrest or persecution.

We asked the cast of "Indecent" how they'd react if they had to worry about being arrested, censored or have their careers cut short because of a performance.

Here's what they had to say:

Photo by Carol Rosegg

Mimi Lieber (left) plays various roles in La Jolla Playhouse's "Indecent," including a mother whose daughter falls in love with a prostitute.

"I would think it would increase my loyalty to the production, increase the imperative to perform it. I'd be incensed." — Mimi Lieber

“I have a strong feeling that I would react in the same way that the actors in 1923 did, with a mixture of fear, confusion and defiance. We (actors) don't like going to jail, but we like being interrupted in performance even less.” — Max Gordon Moore

Photo by Carol Rosegg

Max Gordon Moore and Adina Verson in La Jolla Playhouse’s world-premiere of "Indecent," which runs through Dec. 10, 2015.

“If it happened today, I would say we were doing something right! For a play to have so much backlash is, to me, a great sign of change on the horizon. Of course, that was a different time. ... 'Any press is good press' didn't really apply. It must have been infuriating and humiliating, but I do long for a time when theater could cause such an uproar.” — Adina Verson

Photo by Carol Rosegg

Steven Rattazzi portraying one of the many roles he plays in "Indecent."

“So hard to imagine such a different context. (Director) Rebecca Taichman and (playwright) Paula Vogel spoke often about trying to imagine the hope and the mind-set of a world pre-Holocaust ... trying to capture and embody that spirit and hope. It's so hard, post-9/11 and now, post the events in Paris. But it is important. The excitement of bringing the Yiddish culture to Broadway. The excitement of that mission. The pride and joy of being part of what looked like a new chapter in our cultural history.” — Steven Rattazzi

"Indecent," which opened Nov. 18, will run at La Jolla Playhouse's Mandell Weiss Theatre through Dec. 10. It features a cast of seven actors and three musicians portraying various roles throughout history. Click here for tickets and additional information.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.