Joy Franz, Leanne Agmon, and Molly Stoller in <i>God of Vengeance</i>
Joy Franz, Leanne Agmon, and Molly Stoller in God of Vengeance
(© Jill Usdan)
It's best to approach the Marvell Rep revival of Sholem Asch's 1910 play, God of Vengeance at TBG Theatre, as an historical footnote, since it both portrays the first lesbian kiss on stage and presents a controversial depiction of Jews by a Jewish playwright. Unfortunately, the current production does little to make the case for the work needing to be revived in 2012.

The play tells the story of a Jewish brothel owner named Yankl (Sam Tsoutsouvas) who lives with his wife (Joy Franz), a former whore who used to work for him, and their protected daughter, Rivkele (Leanne Agmon), who has the reputation of a pure, pious girl. The family lives above Yankl's whorehouse, where four attractive Jewish girls work for him along with a slimy pimp, Schloyme (Jason Emanuel).

Yankl wants nothing for himself and his wife, believing himself a sinner beyond redemption. But he is obsessed with his daughter's purity and his hopes for her future. He even purchases a copy of the Torah in a deal with both a local rabbi and, he believes, with God, to protect his daughter.

But unbeknownst to him, his daughter is infatuated with one of the girls downstairs. And even if Rivkele's sexual desire for the alluring Manke (Elizabeth Stahlmann) is quite innocent, between the machinations in the whorehouse downstairs and the increasing madness of her father upstairs, the story unfolds like a Greek tragedy in overdrive.

Under the direction of Lenny Leibowitz, the acting by the company is almost universally done in the style of big, bigger, and biggest. It's very much in the tradition of the Yiddish Theater, and, as a result, the play suffers. Too many times, the audience laughs at lines or scenes that surely are not intended to be humorous.

Moreover, while one can understand why Asch's mentor was so shocked by its content that he advised the writer to burn it – or why after the start of World War II, Asch refused to let his work be shown for fear of fanning the flames of Anti-Semitism -- putting God of Vengeance on now accomplishes little more than exposing the work's flaws as a piece of art instead of its celebrating its controversial history.