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Imagining Madoff Prelim-2

 

The New Jewish Theatre marks the halfway point of their 18th season with a tormenting production of Imagining Madoff. The last time I visited The New Jewish Theatre I was treated to a night celebrating an inspirational icon – Dr. Ruth. This time visits the other end of the spectrum with a night dedicated to one of the most vilified figures– Bernie Madoff.

   

Despite getting an A in my Economic 101 course I have never understood how money truly works. I understand we use it for trade in our economy, but when people start talking about hedge funds and Roth IRA's I usually blink a lot and look around like I am lost in a whirlwind. Madoff not only understood how money worked he used that knowledge to swindle thousands of investors out of billions of dollars by creating one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history.

 

Imagining Madoff attempts to tell Madoff's story though the eyes of Madoff himself, a holocaust survivor who had a brief conversation with Madoff, and one of Madoff's former secretaries. These three story lines weave together to paint a picture of how the actions of this one man destroyed the lives - and fortunes - of thousands of people.

 

As usual, there was a constant argument running though my head during the whole production. Internally, I was begging playwright Deb Margolin not to give Madoff too much humanity so that I would feel one bit of empathy for the man. Unfortunately, for me, Bobby Miller delivered such a committed performance of Madoff that it made me question my judgmental condemnation. As I have said before of Miller, emotionally connects with audiences in each of his performances. It is engrossing to watch him use his talents to bring such an unsavory character to life.

 

Jerry Vogel took on the role of Solomon Galkin - the aforementioned Holocaust survivor who ultimately fell victim to Madoff's scheme. Vogel's performance was engrossing, but the character itself might be the play's downfall. The scenes between Madoff and Galkin felt bloated and overworked. The dialogue between the two main characters seemed to droll on and would lose emotional momentum. Margolin overused the idea of how Galkin begged Madoff to be his financial adviser which would lead him down the road of financial disaster.

 

The most surprising story line was that of Madoff's former secretary, played by Julie Layton. When I watched the Madoff story unfold across MSNBC five years ago, I only thought of Madoff and his victims. Layton's role highlighted the emotional fallout Madoff's actions had on his own employees. When Layton discovers that one of Madoff's former investors has killed himself due to the scandal, she has an emotional breakdown that is compelling to watch. Her role and performance are fantastic. Her attitude and disposition were on point and I felt her anguish when she indirectly blames herself for the man taking his own life.

 

Imagining Madoff is one of those paradoxical productions that make me feel all the right emotions for the wrong reasons. While the subject matter might be distasteful, the performances are all excellent. This production is one of those that I would recommend you see, but with a disclaimer - be prepared for a night of heavy theater and interesting debates during the car ride home.

  

Imagining Madoff plays through February 8th. Please visit newjewishtheatre.org for show times and ticket prices.

 

You can follow me on Twitter @ReviewerJim

 

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