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A Conversation with Playwright Paula Vogel

Broadway Inbound

A backstage drama rich in heritage, Indecent, by Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel, is inspired by the true events surrounding the controversial play God of Vengeance. That production toured Europe and New York to great acclaim in 1923. When it got to Broadway, it was condemned as “indecent” for depicting a love scene between two women. The actors were jailed, but despite the dire circumstances, they continued to perform the play as an affirmation of life.

Staged in a vibrant production, filled with music and stunning visuals by Tony® winner Rebecca Taichman, Indecent is a tribute to the transcendent power of art. Broadway Inbound was fortunate enough to speak with Vogel in a wide-ranging conversation about art and the relevance of her play in 2017.

Vogel first read God of Vengeance when she was 22 years old. “I thought it was stunning,” she recalls, “I read it standing up in the library stacks. I couldn’t breathe during the second act. The love scene between the two women was akin to Romeo and Juliet. I never forgot it.” Vogel treasured Sholem Asch’s play as one of her favorites, so when she received a phone call 10 years ago from director Rebecca Taichman to collaborate on a play, it was an easy “yes.”

“I had heard about Rebecca’s production with the obscenity trials around God of Vengeance and thought that was a brilliant idea,” Vogel said. “I started to follow a lot of her productions and liked the work she was doing, and when she called me it was like two Trekkies finding each other. We just clicked.”

Vogel feels theatre, music, and art should be mandatory for all school children.  “People need to recognize that they could lose theatre in America if we continue down the road we are going on. And not just on Broadway. Theatre should be available to everyone in the community. I live for the day that theatre is a right for American school children, like libraries and museums are.”

Vogel speculated about indecency in the future: “Something that is becoming indecent is a woman’s right to choose. We’re shaming our teachers; politicians are saying things that make me wonder if they remember their teachers. People who are elementary school educators are saints, and why aren’t we treating them as such. Isn’t that indecent?”

“I’d love for everyone to see Indecent,” Vogel responded when asked who she hopes comes to see her play. “My wish is that younger and middle-aged people come see the show and are inspired to talk to their grandparents, to learn about their great-grandparents. Who married outside of the family and where are they now? I hope a younger audience comes to see this play. I’m a teacher, and I have children who think the Holocaust and World War II are just historical facts. It’s not just a date, or a fact, it’s in our bodies.”

She added, “When my brother Carl was dying, I was his primary caretaker. He eventually lost his sight, and began revisiting the Holocaust. He said to me, ‘Do you realize that one part of our family has always been killing off another part of our family, for as far back as we can trace?’” 

“I talked to people who are Holocaust survivors, or whose parents are survivors, and they have incredible stories,” she said. “I talked to my grandparents and wish I had talked to them more.”

By writing Indecent, Paula Vogel has done just that. Her play honors the struggles and sacrifices of our ancestors, and reminds us all to be grateful for the freedoms we maintain today. By telling a story from almost 100 years ago, Vogel urgently tackles themes of love, free speech, immigration, and the power of art with timeless poignancy.

Congratulations to Indecent on their two 2017 Tony Awards: Best Lighting Design of a Play and Best Direction of a Play. They play is scheduled to play its final performance August 6, so make sure to get your tickets by visiting the show page below.

Photograph from Playbill

Author: Chanelle Cotton