God of Vengeance

by Joe Siegel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday March 19, 2018

A scene from "God of Vengeance."
A scene from "God of Vengeance."  

The greatest art has the ability to hold up a mirror to show us our flawed humanity. This was never more apparent than in Head Trick Theatre's outstanding production of Shalom Asch's "God of Vengeance."

Director Rebecca Maxfield showcased the talents of a powerhouse cast in Asch's story of a Jewish brothel owner and his quest for respectability.

Yekel (Eric Behr) and his level-headed wife Sarah (Susan Buttrick) want their beautiful daughter Rifkele to marry a Talmud scholar (Jay Walker) and carry on with Jewish tradition. Yekel tries to win over Reb Eli by commissioning a Torah scroll. He works overtime to convince the Rabbi he is a godly man, although his brothel is operating just underneath their feet.

Rifkele, played with an appealing mix of charm and innocence by Emma Sacchetti, is in love with Manke (Christine Pavao), one of the prostitutes.

Behr is mesmerizing as a headstrong man who tries to maintain an iron grip on Rifkele. Violence is not out of the question when his will is challenged. It's a great performance.

Meanwhile, the abusive Shloyme (Ian Hudgins) and his opportunistic fiancťe Hindel (Rebecca Schmitt Tung) intend to employ Rifkele as a prostitute for their own financial benefit.

Shloyme gleefully refers to Rifkele "a genuine gold mine!"

"God of Vengeance" is a true ensemble piece with the more minor characters getting a chance to shine.

Pavao, who was so charismatic in Head Trick's "Gabriel," brings that same kind of depth and personality to Manke, a woman who is empowered enough to take control of her own destiny. The romantic moments between Pavao and Sacchetti are especially convincing.

The always dynamic Geoff White has some dramatic moments as the Rabbi who is aghast at Yekel after he curses God.

Julian Trilling and Ashley Moore also shine as two of Yekel's prostitutes.

"God of Vengeance" was written in Yiddish in 1907 and was translated into English and staged on Broadway in 1923. The play incited outrage and resulted in the cast and producer being convicted on obscenity charges.

Jewish organizations were fearful the play would stir up feelings of anti-semitism because of what they believed were negative portrayals of Jews.

Asch, who was Polish and Jewish, was depicting human frailty, which is not exclusive to one religion or ethnic group.

In its depiction of lesbianism, Asch was also breaking artistic barriers and challenging audiences to look at human sexuality in a new light.

The play's depiction of sexual exploitation, the obligation of women to conform to religious tradition, and domestic abuse are issues relevant to the times we're living in now, considering the impact the #Metoo and #timesup movements are having.

As with their previous productions, Head Trick used AS220's Black Box Theatre in Providence. The intimate space allows audiences to be very close to the onstage action, which makes it hard to look away from some of the brutality exhibited.

"God of Vengeance" moved at a brisk pace, clocking in at approximately 70 minutes. With this fascinating group of actors, the show left you wanting to see what they will do next.

"God of Vengeance" ran from March 9-18, Head Trick Theatre. For more information, go to www.headtricktheatre.org.

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.