Photo: C. Stanley Photography
If you want to learn about one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history, this show isn’t for you. If you want to learn more about the man that ran off with the savings of individuals, charitable organizations, and others- this show may not be for you.
Instead of retelling history, Theater J’s Imagining Madoff focuses on a fictionalized meeting between Bernie Madoff (Rick Foucheux) and Solomon Galkin (Mike Nussbaum), one of his clients/victims. Despite the show’s fictional premise, playwright Deb Margolin creates an engaging narrative that whets our appetite as we collectively wonder who was this notorious criminal and how could he steal so much from so many.
Theater J’s opening production for the 2011-2012 season hits the stage a year after an earlier version of the show, one that told a fictional meeting between Madoff and real-life victim Elie Wiesel, was cancelled due to Wiesel’s objections. Margolin has since changed Wiesel’s character to the fictional Galkin.
Much like Wiesel, Galkin is a poet and writer who has trusted his foundation’s assets to Madoff. After a benefit event, the two find themselves in Galkin’s library where the two spend the night discussing everything from baseball to women to religion. Thrown into the mix are comments from Madoff in his prison cell to an unseen biographer and statements from one of Madoff’s executive assistants (Jennifer Mendenhall).
Foucheux is very convincing as Madoff. You won’t see a “Greed is good”, remorseless persona reminiscent of Gordon Gecko- in fact Madoff admits he was reduced to tears when he realized how good he was at deception during his childhood.
Ponzi schemes fail because they eventually collapse under their own weight. The scam is designed to quickly amass money through falsely promising returns that don’t exist. The pressure of maintaining the ruse was visible in Madoff. He compared his attitude towards money as salmon in spawn: it was just about keeping up with the movement of everything. In real-life Madoff has commented that the scheme exhausted him as it grew bigger and bigger and he actually hoped he would of gotten caught years before he did.
The Madoff imagined in this show isn’t an over-the-top villain but simply a man that did what it took to make it big even if it meant breaking all the rules. As a result he has become a man not driven to earn more and more but to simply prevent himself from being consumed from the monster he created.
In opposition to Madoff’s lack of morals is Solomon Galkin: the moral right and spiritual leader. He is surrounded by a library of books, many of which contain passages from the Torah. The juxtaposition of right (Galkin) and wrong (Madoff) eventually reaches a climax that is more of a simmer than a boiling point. The intellectual sparring of the two is essentially the crux of the show, but it moves at a methodical pace throughout the 90-minute, intermission-less show.
While the show maybe more fiction than fact, Imagining Madoff offers a realistic take on the man that swindled millions. Yes there are a few artistic liberties that will make Madoff a bit quirkier than your average crook (I don’t know many white-collar criminals that dream of vaginas shaped as wallets), but Madoff is exactly who we would imagine him to be: immoral, driven, and deceptive.
Theater J’s production of Imagining Madoff plays now through September 25th at the Washington District of Columbia Jewish Community Center, located at 1529 16th Street NW, Washington DC 20036. Closest Metro: Dupont Circle (Red Line). For more information call (202) 518-9400.