Finally, after over a year of legal threats, changed venues, and overwhelming buzz, “Imagining Madoff” has returned to the stage it was originally intended for, Washington D.C.’s Theater J.
The play, which imagines conversations discussing issues of morality and personal responsibility between Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernard Madoff and a fictional client, Solomon Galkin, has seen its share of controversy leading up to its August 31st opening.
The first version by playwright Deborah Margolin focused not on Galkin, but on Nobel Laureate Ellie Wiesel, who lost his life savings in the Madoff scandal, as well as $15.2 million of his charity’s funds.
Margolin sent a first draft of the play to Wiesel and hoped for a positive response. However, Wiesel replied by sending a letter that called the play obscene and defamatory and made clear he would use his lawyers to block the play from being performed.
Margolin and Theater J Artistic Director Ari Roth and Margolin decided to replace the Wiesel character with Galkin, who shares some similarities with the real life Wiesel, including being a writer and a Holocaust survivor.
Roth, in continued attempt to make peace, offered to share a copy of the new script with Wiesel’s foundation to prove that the Nobel Laureate had been expunged from the text.
Margolin, however, was not pleased with this course of action. Reacting to what she felt was akin to giving Wiesel final approval of her script, she took the production to Stageworks/Hudson in New York.
Still, despite their falling out at the time, Roth told the New York Times that he thought of Margolin's play as “indefinitely postponed” and that not only was he planning to see the play himself, but that he would also consider staging it again in the future.
Theater J, which is part of the D.C. Jewish Community Center, is known for its commitment to edgy and provocative Jewish theater. In this regard, to some it seemed inevitable that “Imagining Madoff” would one day be seen on its stage.
“It was important for ‘Imagining Madoff’ to return to Theater J,” Margolin told the Forward. “Its return signaled to the world that the play is free and clear, and it came home.”