Yiddish Play, Still Contentious After 100 Years, to Hit Polish Stage

Lesbian sex, a brothel, cutting shady deals with the almighty: How will Warsaw take to 'The God of Vengeance?'

A Yiddish play too daring for many theaters of the early 1900s - and still controversial today - is taking to the stage once more in a Polish production next month.

Sholem Asch’s “Got Fun Nekome,” or “The God of Vengeance,” is about a the owner of a brothel who - though not Victorian in business - reaches out to God in hope of a deal to protect his daughter’s innocence.

Completed in 1907, the English-language production arrived only in 1923, when it became the first-ever drama on Broadway to feature a lesbian love scene. The cast was promptly arrested and charged with obscenity.

The play was viewed as so contentious that its own writer, a Yiddish novelist and playwright born to a Hasidic family in Russian-controlled Poland, eventually refused to let it be performed in public.

The new production opens December 19 at Warsaw’s Ester Rachel Kaminska and Ida Kaminska State Jewish Theater. It will be the first time the theater is imposing an age limit on theatergoers: only 16 and up will be admitted.

Director Andrei Munteanu’s “Bog Zemsty,” as the play is known in Polish, will be performed in Yiddish, with simultaneous translation into Hebrew, Polish and English.

In the play, a man who appears to be a good citizen and doting father runs a brothel in the basement of the family home. One of the prostitutes wants to bring his daughter, Rivka, into the business. To atone for his sins, the father funds the purchase of a valuable Torah scroll.

Although Asch was born in the city of Kutno, near Warsaw, and this play is considered one of his best, “Bog Zemsty" is virtually unheard of in Poland. That may be because theaters have shied away from the taboos it raises.

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