La Jolla Playhouse ‘Indecent’ Explores Legal Battle Over Artistic Expression
[music] are some things to forbidden to talk about or look at, or see on stage. How does a by the minority culture survive when it comes against the mainstream. Those are some of the questions explored in the play indecent which is running at the Longoria Playhouse. The story recounts the scandal that erected with a play, got a vengeance, was produced on Broadway in 1923. Its producers and cast were arrested starting a legal value over issues of immorality and artistic expression. Joining the our Pulitzer prize-winning playwright who wrote indecent, Apollo welcome. Thank you Marlene peers And Rebecca Rich -- that shows director peers Paula, that was the God of vengeance about and why did it give its cast so much trouble? The play was written in 1906 by a young newlywed man. It concerns a Jewish brothel owner who is living with his wife, an ex-prostitute, and they are trying on the positives -- proceeds of the business on their house downstairs. While they are trying to raise up your daughter above. They bought her -- to keep her pure today engaged her to a rabbi's son pit the only hitch is she falls in love with a prostitute downstairs peers And that particular brief love scene, and the God of vengeance, was basically the thing that the state Do you think that is what closed it down? It is an interesting furtherance of issue in this place. It is a cocktail. Maybe the base element was the love scene. But the play, this young writer through in every possible explosive issue into this one is to. An extraordinary play. He questions the radical nature of God. The critical piety. It's Rosenhaus and lesbians. -- He was clearly looking to disrupt the And where does this play fit into the context of yellowish plays being written around the turn of the 20th century. , Pit It is really written at a for a of Yiddish literature. Particularly in the salon of IL Paris. The difference I think about God of vengeance is that obviously, Josh had been reading some of the contemporary work like quirky. It was a little bit clear, not as romantic. A little harsh. Somewhat in love with some of the naturalism. It was different. As Rebecca was saying it is a cocktail. One of the interesting things about the play, Rebecca and I cocreated this. We both read this play at different points in our life that I've been talking to people from all over the play. Almost never produced but once you encounter it, you become obsessed by the play. You want to talk about Europe session a little. That's may be an understatement. I read the play for the first time and I think it's about 20 years ago, when I was a graduate student. I was searching for a project. I happened upon an article that described the obscenity trial. I was described in my theatrical studies I hadn't run across the story. I found the play and quickly after I found the transcript of the trial. Thus began a 20 year-long obsession with the events that unfolded surrounded the play. Also the beauty and the profanity of the play. It looks you. It's interesting. I feel very moved seeing this sharing the story of this particular memory with an audience Paula, how do you write a play about a play? How much of the play itself do you have to let the audience know about in order for your own play to make sense? You just put your finger on it. One of the big challenges. In terms of writing this we do give a plot synopsis. We do give some key scenes that we kind of repeat, like a refrain. While been showing all of the backstage stories about this play. The play goes from 1906 to 1952. We made all of the actors who carried the play on the back, all around the panel, Russia, Moscow, Russia, London. The E side. I do feel at this point, we have been working on this for five years, I do feel at this point that people leave the theater going all my gosh. They want to read it, they want to see it why hasn't this play been done. Certainly for me I read it when I was 23 years old. I stood in the library and Saying this was written in 1906? It feels like it was written today. I wonder Rebecca, was the closing of the plate opted in any way by the fact that it was originally a play and let us -- --? Yiddish? The complaint was registered by a rabbi. Temple may do well in the upper East side of New York. It was actually the Jewish community, a particular part of the Jewish community, that was fearful of having this representation of themselves on the great White Way. It ran for quite some time in the Yiddish creator been moved to upper Broadway. There were issues but small issues. As it is it was thrust into the mainstream. I had compassion for that right by. -- Rabbi I think he was pointing to a real fear in the community, that there was an anti-Semitism in the culture and he wanted the head it off. He didn't think it was appropriate like to we want to air our dirty laundry on Broadway in 1923. Is this the piece of art we want to present peers And the closing of the God of vengeance, it affected the Yiddish the later peers It did. For a time I fill it suppressed this movement to crossover. Which was a great hope at the time. If you stop to think about why it feels so today, talking at a play that was produced at a time of anti-Semitism. That in many ways I worried we are revisiting. Trying to stop immigration, lowering quotas for trying to enforce our borders of the United States. So there was a suppression I think in terms of what can be seen, how do we inside a community represent ourselves, at a very endangered, kind of endangerment. It was a dangerous time. As Rebecca is saying, we are sympathetic. It is also kind of extraordinary to go back and recognize that once upon a time, Jewish culture was very much in a minority culture. And that Jewish people were not thought of as American. Now this indecent, that play at La Jolla Playhouse, your play is being promoted as a play with music. I think we got a little bit of an idea of what that is from the opening of this segment. What is the difference between that and a musical quick The music and indecent is used in a singular and unique way. A way I've never experienced in the theater. The play and decent we keep blinking through time. Sometimes it's 10 minutes later, sometimes it's 15 years later. Really the play to the music moves us in a way that only music can do through space and suddenly we remain -- we landed in a cabaret in 16th century Berlin. Because of the performance style we are thrust into that place in the music keeps situating it is not used in a conventional story narrative way. It's used to propel time. There is also, as you mention Rebecca, a lot of locales shifts in the play. A lot of the actors play multiple roles. Is this a challenging play to stage quick Very. [laughter] I would say, I was in the theater I guess Sunday evening and when the play ended, I heard somebody behind these have never seen anything like this before. And the person repeated the same thing, I don't think I seen anything like this before. And I thought me neither. [laughter] It is really fascinating and extraordinary, challenge to cut a new structure, theatrical structure that I've never witnessed in my theatergoing days. I have to say the real root for both of us, of creating this piece, is a lifelong love of creator. The audiences who come, everyone backstage, the actors. This is a love story. An improbable love story perhaps in terms of the stories that we are telling. But hopefully that is the most infectious, that people see the love you Tell us more. In other interviews I see you have called this a love letter to the theater itself. How do you see that involving? Is very interesting. Again, we are constantly, I think one of the things about being a theater artist got is the theater in the 21st century, what are we doing? Should we be going in the film and television? The truth of the matter, film and television are created by the same people. And what is extraordinary about La Jolla Playhouse is the audience that developed at La Jolla. That comes their regardless of rain or sun. I cannot say snow out here. But one of the things I am feeling very much is a recognition that Peter indoors -- the later indoors. We have to recognize the theater audience, how much we lost with this cultural shift Captain, World War II, and come to commemorate the people who literally carried suitcases across the globe to take the God of vengeance from town to town. Traveling companies, the smaller towns, every town had its own cultural life, its own theater. So that is one of the things that this play, Indecent is celebrating the If you think about how one piece of art articulates a historical., Is quite offensive rating lens to look at the swap of history -- a fascinating lens to look at the swap of history. One piece of creator. A testament to how powerful creator can be an articulating what is happening historically and culturally in that moment. If you look at the response to the play evolving and shifts. It's really fascinating to look through the lens of this, of one play. Would be too much to ask, will it give away anything if we tell people what indeed happen to this hapless cast and crew? Of the . attendance in 1923 -- the God of vengeance in 1923 peers They were arrested. They went to jail. The extraordinary producer of this play who got the bright idea, let's translate this published in English and bring it to Broadway, bring it to the great White Way. By the way this was the first kiss between two women on the Broadway stage. If you stop and think I'm not sure this is true, we're not celebrating how many years or decades later peers At any rate this extraordinary producer happily with a lower your. Some earlier -- your special earlier. They closed the show and several years later, two years later, he as a lawyer , got the appeal on the verdict. It was too late for the play. These people were tiny names at the play time. Robert Cornell ski had aware of maybe six lines. One woman was in the cast of our time -- our town. One woman writing mystery line with -- novels. They scattered to the winds except for this extraordinary moment. I will let everyone know that Indecent runs at the level of Playhouse , is running now and will continue through December 10 at the level of -- La Jolla Playhouse. Thank you both very much. This has been an honor, thank you.
A kiss shared between two women on stage may not cause much of a stir today, but that has not always been the case.
It tells the story of "God of Vengeance,” written by the Jewish playwright Sholem Asch in 1906. A scandal erupted after its debut on Broadway in 1923. The plot, including the lesbian relationship, led to the arrest of the entire cast on obscenity charges.
Paula Vogel, who wrote “Indecent,” said she and director Rebecca Taichman read Asch’s play at different times in their lives. They became obsessed with what happened after its debut.
“Once you encounter it, you become somewhat obsessed with this play,” Vogel told KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday.
She said the setting for “Indecent” begins in 1906 and ends in 1952. It shows scenes from “God of Vengeance” and explores the backstage stories and its actors.
“People will leave the theater thinking, ‘I want to read this play,’” Vogel said.
Taichman said “God of Vengeance” explores every possible explosive issue of its time.
“I feel very moved by sharing this story,” she said.
"Indecent" is billed as a play with music. It runs through Dec. 10 at the La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive.