At university, director Rebecca Taichman and playwright Paula Vogel were both drawn to Sholem Asch’s 1907 sensation God of Vengeance. Their show about its controversy now hits London

Books can lurk for decades on a library shelf, hugging their incendiary potential close until the right readers happen along. For God of Vengeance, a neglected classic of Yiddish theatre, one of those readers was American playwright Paula Vogel. “A professor looked at me in the first week at Cornell University – I was dressing a certain way, I think – and said, I think there’s a play with your name on it. I ran to the library, and it stunned me.”

In large part, this was the shock of recognition. God of Vengeance (Got Fun Nekome) was a sensation from its Berlin premiere in 1907, sweeping Europe and crossing the Atlantic. Its audacious young author, Sholem Asch, set his tragedy in a brothel, where the owner’s daughter begins a same-sex relationship with a prostitute – their rain-drenched love scene was compared to Romeo and Juliet’s balcony. “I talked out loud in the library stacks,” Vogel remembers. “‘A young married man wrote this?!’ A young married man had shown me the beauty of my love for other women.”

Some years later, the play ambushed another sparky student, this time at Yale. “I was looking for a play to direct,” says Rebecca Taichman. “Alisa Solomon’s book Re-Dressing the Canon mentioned God of Vengeance and I was floored by it. And then became thoroughly obsessed by the play and the story of what happened to it.”

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