Theater J is finally giving its audience the drama after the title was pulled from its season in 2010 when concerns about the script's content arose. The play was originally to have its world premiere in August 2010 at Theater J, a company devoted to Jewish writers or plays relating to the Jewish experience.
The playwright pulled the play after she determined she was not able or willing to make the revisions that Theater J requested, according to an earlier blog item written by the company's artistic director Ari Roth for the Theater J website. Those revisions included changing the name and likeness of the wise old Jewish character in the play from "Elie Wiesel" to a new, fictional character.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wiesel, who was sent a copy of the original script, objected to the use of his name as a character in the play, which focuses on the admitted white-collar criminal, the investment consultant Bernard Madoff. Wiesel was one of many victims of Madoff's investment schemes, which bilked investors out of billions of dollars over several decades. Wiesel threatened legal action about his name being connected to the play.
The work was ultimately rewritten, and had a quiet world premiere at Stageworks/Hudson, a theatre company in upstate Hudson, NY, in summer 2010. In the play as it exists now, Madoff has an encounter with "Holocaust survivor, poet and investment client Solomon Galkin," played at Theater J by Mike Nussbaum, a revered veteran actor of the Chicago theatre (American Buffalo is on his resume).
Jennifer Mendenhall, the busy DC actress known for Homebody/Kabul, Clybourne Park and Circle Mirror Transformation, plays the role of Madoff's secretary. Alexandra Aron directs the production, which is billed this way: "In 2008, the scandal of Bernie Madoff shook the financial world, Jewish community, and American economic landscape. In Deb Margolin's fictionalized account of the man behind one of the biggest scams in history, Bernie Madoff addresses an unseen biographer, reliving the night he spent in the warmly-lit library of Solomon Galkin. As Galkin implores Madoff to take him on as a client, their conversation traverses theology, sex, morality and the New York Mets. As the whiskey soaked night creeps towards morning, Galkin confides the brutish evils he faced while imprisoned in a concentration camp, never imagining the more elegant evil threatening him in his own study. Meanwhile, Madoff's Secretary gives testimony both against and about him in court and struggles with her own questions about her unknowable employer and her own culpability."
Opening night at the Washington, DC, JCC's Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater is Sept. 6.
"In writing the play Imagining Madoff," Margolin said in a statement, "I gave myself permission to enter the mind of a man considered the avatar of depraved indifference; to ask myself: If I were keeping a secret for 35 years that had the power to ruin hundreds, thousands of lives, what kind of relationship would I need to have with myself? I've always believed that, if we're all different points at which the entire universe expresses itself, I should be able to look to my own humanity to determine what went wrong in Madoff's, or anyone else's."
Theater J artistic director Ari Roth stated, "In reimagining a hypothetical encounter with a fictional poet, Holocaust survivor, synagogue treasurer and honored member of the Jewish community, Deb Margolin has given voice to a heartbreaking personal and collective sense of loss, as audiences will experience and remember that shared trauma of discovering that so much assumed wealth that had been amassed by individuals and foundations had, because of Madoff's chicanery, vanished into thin air, leaving very real, and sometimes devastating consequences."
Margolin is a playwright, performance artist and founding member of Split Britches Theater Company. She is the author of numerous plays, including Three Seconds in the Key, Time is the Mercy of Eternity and Bringing the Fishermen Home. She is the recipient of a 1999–2000 Obie Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance, the 2005 Kesselring Playwriting Award for Three Seconds in the Key, and the 2008 Helen Merrill Distinguished Playwright Award.
Tickets are available for $35–$60 at theaterj.org or at (800) 494-TIXS.