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Was it the lesbian kiss? The prostitutes? Or was it simply “indecent?” Free reading Monday at The Kavinoky of the hour-long play GOD OF VENGEANCE with an all-star cast


In 1923, six weeks into their run, an entire cast of Broadway actors (see photo) along with their producer and the owners of the theater were arrested on obscenity charges. Hauled off to the hoosegow, they were indicted and convicted on obscenity charges for performing an English translation of the controversial Yiddish play by Sholem Asch, GOD OF VENGEANCE.

Was it a flagrant on-stage lesbian kiss? That happened but 100 years ago the bigger crime was simply depicting prostitutes on stage. (Note: How times have changed. Currently, the local Alleyway Theatre is running a play, FACTORY FOR MURDERERS, with a whole stage full of prostitutes, ironically in a building that was for a while a Buffalo police station.)

So for two Mondays two of the most respected theater companies in Buffalo have already, and will soon again (this Monday evening January 20th at 7 p.m.) combine forces to give audiences a peek into 20th-century theater history as well as providing a very solid introduction to an upcoming play by Paula Vogel.

Vogel, whose plays often cover “uncomfortable” topics, had her DESDEMONA: A PLAY ABOUT A HANDKERCHIEF (asking if Othello really did have reason to be jealous… he did) and the Pulitzer Prize-winning HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE (a young woman recalls driving lessons sitting in the lap of her lecherous uncle) both recently performed in Buffalo by, respectively The Brazen Faced Varlets and Subversive Theatre.

INDECENT, after a long gestation, was Paula Vogel’s first Broadway play and will be presented by the Kavinoky Theatre, directed by Kristen Tripp Kelley, from March 6th through March 29th, 2020. A “play within a play” INDECENT will take us through the history of GOD OF VENGEANCE.

That older play tells the story of a Jewish brothel owner who pays for a handwritten Torah scroll to elevate his status in Jewish society and to make his daughter more eligible to marry a respectable Jewish man – one studying to become a rabbi. The problem: the daughter has fallen in love with one of her father’s prostitutes.

The staged reading is free this coming Monday, January 20, at 7 p.m. at the Kavinoky Theatre, with free-will donations accepted at the door.

Per director Adam Yellen, as it did last week, the reading this Monday will again feature a showcase of Buffalo’s best actors: Brittany Basset, Leah Berst, Christian Brandjes, Arin Lee Dandes, Diane Di Bernardo, Saul Elkin, Angelo Heimowitz, Kristen Tripp Kelley, Aleks Malejs, and Peter Palmisano.

All but two of that list of actors will be on stage for INDECENT next month.

Here’s how it went down (and will again): After a short welcome by Jewish Rep Artistic Director Saul Elkin, we heard some opening remarks by SUNY/Buffalo Professor Emeritus Irving Massey. No long academic lecture, it was rather charming and entertaining. Then, the JCC Yiddish Circle read, in Yiddish, about 6 minutes of the original GOD OF VENGEANCE from Act I. We all know Yiddish words and expressions such as tchotchkes, or meshugga, not to mention schlemiel, and schlemozzle. But hearing an entire (although short) scene in Yiddish (written translations will be in the program) was a treat. It sounds a little like German, but just a little.

After that, the play GOD OF VENGEANCE will be read in English. The whole event takes about an hour and a quarter.

Intrigued? The performance at Jewish Rep was “sold out” (or, since it was free, “fully reserved”). For reservations for Monday, January 20th at the much larger Kavinoky Theatre, call (716) 829-7668. When I checked several days ago they already had over 60 reservations, but with about 150 seats (not counting the balcony) you should be able to get in.

Upcoming theater of note:

  1. The Brazen Faced Varlets, who brought us Vogel’s DESDEMONA: A PLAY ABOUT A HANDKERCHIEF, are currently offering Carolyn Cage’s THE ANASTASIA TRIALS IN THE COURT OF WOMEN up now through February 1, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., plus Sunday, February 2 at 2 at the Alleyway Cabaret; enter at 672 Main Street. (598-1585)
  2. Subversive Theatre, who brought us Vogel’s HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE, is offering the “in yer face” MERCURY FUR, a play with very heavy adult content, by Philip Ridley, which might give contemporary audiences the feeling of “now that’s just going too far.” It’s up now through February 8, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. at The Manny Fried Playhouse on the third floor at 255 Great Arrow Avenue, Buffalo (462-5549)
  3. If you enjoy free readings (free, although food pantry donations are suggested) Second Generation Theatre is reading a new play, THE BOWLING PLAY, by co-founder Kelly Copps (who is currently starring in THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY at The Kavinoky), one night only, Monday, January 27 at 7:00 p.m. in the back chapel of the Kenmore Presbyterian Church, 2771 Delaware Avenue, Kenmore, NY  (parking lot off Parkwood Avenue, enter through the last door on the left).

UP NEXT: At the Jewish Repertory Theatre in Getzville, Josie DiVincenzo stars in WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW, a journey through the American healthcare system “told with the intimacy of a diary and the suspense of a thriller.”  It runs from February 6 through March 1.  Purchase the Oprah-recommended book WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW at Talking Leaves Books (951 Elmwood Avenue) and get a $5 coupon to apply to your play ticket.

At the Kavinoky Theatre, as noted, INDECENT, by Paula Vogel runs from March 6th through March 29th, 2020.

Lead image: In 1923 the Broadway cast of GOD OF VENGEANCE was arrested, indicted, and convicted on obscenity charges. Source: JRT

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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