Malka Wallick (left) and Rivka Borek in a pre-production photo for "Indecent" at the San Francisco Playhouse. (Photo/Jessica Palopoli)
Malka Wallick (left) and Rivka Borek in a pre-production photo for "Indecent" at the San Francisco Playhouse. (Photo/Jessica Palopoli)

Cancellation of student play in Florida is ‘Indecent’

Question: What is indecent? 

Answer: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 2022 law, called “The Parental Rights in Education” bill — better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. This law effectively silences public school teachers in Florida from providing any knowledge about sexual orientation or gender identity to their students. 

But “Indecent” is also the title of a play, one that the Yiddish Theatre Ensemble, which I co-lead, had the great honor to co-produce last year for its Bay Area premiere at San Francisco Playhouse. “Indecent” tells the story of another play called “God of Vengeance,” written in 1906 by a 26-year-old former Yeshiva student named Sholem Asch.  

“God of Vengeance” is about an abusive husband and overbearing father who tries to separate his pious home life above from his brothel business below. He desperately tries to keep his 17-year-old daughter, Rivkeleh, under lock and key — but it doesn’t work. She soon befriends Manke, one of the prostitutes, and they share a secret love that is the purest relationship among those of the corrupt and greedy world that surrounds them.

Written by Paula Vogel, “Indecent” shows how madly successful “God of Vengeance” was throughout Europe and depicts the devotion of the actors, stage managers and audiences to the play. Many say it changed their lives. Only when it was transferred to Broadway was it slammed with obscenity charges and shut down. That was 1923.

One hundred years after the “God of Vengeance” obscenity trial, a production of “Indecent” at the Douglas Anderson School of Arts in Jacksonville, Florida, has been shut down because, according to a school district official, it “contains adult sexual dialog that is inappropriate for student cast members and student audiences.”

Yes, you heard that right. Vogel’s play exposing the brutal effects of a play being shut down has just been shut down.  

The students know what’s what. They point to the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which forbids educators from providing any information to their students about LGBTQ individuals, history or culture. 

We at the Yiddish Theatre Ensemble stand with the student cast of “Indecent” and urge their principal and the Duval County School Board to let them perform “Indecent” as planned.

We hope that the many gifts “Indecent” offers young performers and their audiences will soon be realized in Jacksonville. The educational opportunities abound. The audience talkback discussions at San Francisco Playhouse were ripe with diverse opinions and viewpoints concerning the play’s themes around European and American antisemitism, domestic violence, LGBTQ issues, the immigrant experience and the telltale signs of how fascism and the erasure of an entire people can happen in the most civilized of countries — law by law by law.

Bruce Bierman
Bruce Bierman

Bruce Bierman is co-artistic director with Laura Sheppard of the Yiddish Theatre Ensemble in Berkeley. YTE’s award-winning video production of Sholem Asch’s “God of Vengeance” is available for purchase here.