We probably won’t know for a while whether Imagining Madoff will return to Theater J for its 2011-2012 season. Here’s what Artistic Director Ari Roth told me this spring, not long after Theater J announced it would not be staging the play after its writer, Deb Margolin, walked: “I will produce that play in September 2011 and open the season with it. Provided we do not get sued.” The play would have portrayed an imagined encounter between fictionalized versions of financial criminal Bernie Madoff and author and Jewish humanitarian icon Elie Wiesel. Wiesel objected to the work and threatened legal action; Margolin and Roth decided to revise the play and change the Wiesel character’s name; when Roth made plain his intention to resubmit the revised play to Wiesel’s foundation to assure it that the content was not legally actionable, Margolin read the overture as giving Wiesel a veto. And so Theater J had to find a new play to open its 2010-2011 season.
But Imagining Madoff is not in limbo: It’s now having its world premiere in the venue where it was supposed to have its, um, pre-premiere premiere (the distinction is frankly lost on me). The play starts this Wednesday at Stageworks/Hudson in Hudson, N.Y.—-and it’s the Wiesel-free rewrite. From the Stageworks e-mail list:
Mystery and intrigue unfold in this brilliant fictional unmasking of Bernard Madoff!
Imagine . . . from within his prison cell, the now notorious Ponzi-ist is entangled in the memory of a profound, psychologically erotic evening spent with the poet and humanitarian, Solomon Galkin. In the presence of the righteous, can Madoff overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of his last chance at redemption?
When reporting on Imagining Madoff, I asked Roth if excising the Wiesel character would diminish the play. He said, “Yes, it’ll lose something, but it could gain something.” I’ve read the version of the play that Theater J originally planned to stage, from before it was revised, and I liked it, especially upon reflection: I think Margolin’s original instinct, that the use of a moral figure of Wiesel’s stature was the perfect foil to Madoff, was spot-on.
Anyone who’s followed the Theater J/Imagining Madoff news—-the Washington Post broke the story, and it attracted the attention of the New York Times, various theater websites and blogs, and most major American Jewish publications—-will know that Solomon Galkin is a stand-in for Wiesel. Will audiences who haven’t followed it? No idea.
More importantly: Will the play remain as powerful? I’m curious to find out. I may even send a critic to review Stageworks’ production.
Photo by Rob Shannon/courtesy Stageworks/Hudson.