|L-R: Gerry Bamman and Jeremiah Kissel in IMAGINING MADOFF. Photo by Jody Christopherson.|
The most important word in the title of Deb Margolin’s thought-provoking play, Imagining Madoff, is not “Madoff” but “Imagining.” That is because this is no simple re-telling of the tale of the greatest Ponzi scheme in history (Bernie Madoff’s theft of nearly $65 billion from trusting investors, a crime for which he is currently serving a prison term of 150 years). Rather, it is a highly speculative philosophical, theological, and psychological investigation of why Madoff acted as he did and the moral and ethical issues underlying his actions (and those around him).
Imagining Madoff had its critically acclaimed sold-out New York premiere earlier this year at 59E59 Theaters. It is now enjoying an encore engagement at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row on West 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan.
The play is beautifully written and artfully executed with Jeremiah Kissel cast as the tortured, enigmatic, and thoroughly amoral Bernie Madoff; Jenny Allen as his loyal but confused and guilt-ridden secretary; and Gerry Bamman as Solomon Galkin, Madoff’s friend and a Holocaust survivor and poet who is the treasurer of his synagogue (the synagogue itself turning out to be one of the victims of Madoff’s fraud).
(In Margolin’s original version of the play, the friend/Holocaust survivor/poet/synagogue treasurer was not the fictitious Solomon Galkin but the real life Elie Wiesel but when Wielsel objected and threatened to sue, claiming that the play was defamatory and obscene, Margolin converted Wiesel into Galkin.)
Obedience – to parents, teachers, priests and other legal, military and religious authorities - is generally considered a virtue. But not always. I doubt if anyone today would claim that the obedience of German citizens to Nazi authorities was a virtue (nor, for that matter, that the obedience of Americans to those enacting Jim Crow laws was either). But then what are we to say about Abraham’s obedience to God as evidence by his willingness to sacrifice Isaac if that, indeed, was what God commanded? Would Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac have been a virtue – or a sin?
Or does it all come down to a question of trust – Abraham’s trust in God, the average citizen’s trust in his government, or Galkin’s trust in Madoff – to always do the right thing? And when they don’t? Is that what is so dismaying Madoff’s secretary: her misplaced trust in her so-highly regarded employer?
Jeremiah Kissel, Jenny Allen, and Gerry Bamman are absolutely superb in their respective roles as Madoff, his secretary, and Galkin. And while Deb Margolin provides no perfect solutions to any of these deep philosophical problems, she does ask all the right questions. And that, at least, is a big step in the right direction.