New Repertory Theatre opens its IMAGINING MADOFF (playing through Jan. 26th) just as J.P. Morgan Chase starts paying out over a billion dollars in penalties for its part in the infamous Madoff Ponzi scheme. (Bankers at Chase supposedly knew about misappropriations of client’s funds and kept quiet.)
As you enter the Arsenal black box space, you’re swept into Jon Savage’s transcendent set. A canopy, a panoply of books as dramatic as any script commands your eye. An overhanging firmament of hundreds of open pages flies above you. You feel the presence of thousands of books (Savage estimates the total at 3000) and you thrill to the promise of their contents. You know you will soon meet the scholar whose texts these are.
Although playwright Deborah Margolin wrote her script with Elie Wiesel in mind, when he objected, she rewrote the role. The Jewish leader in Margolin’s play writes, lectures and invests all his money and his foundation’s money (just as Wiesel did) with his friend. What fascinates most of us is that Madoff swindled his friends, not strangers. Margolin never really addresses why. Instead she shows us their jovial camaraderie: evenings spent discussing the Old Testament and baseball over expensive scotch.
Director Elaine Vaan Hogue has a strong cast to work with. Jeremiah Kissel is full of piss and vinegar as the reckless investment advisor and Joel Colodner breathes a reluctant nobility into the Holocaust survivor who is weary of “being the public face of courage.” Adrianne Krstansky has the miniscule role of an administrative assistant being grilled by the SEC. She’s entirely sympathetic but the role is superfluous when all we want to see is the confrontation between betrayer and betrayed. Alas, Margolin’s play doesn’t go there.
When we witness the two men together, it’s before Madoff’s indictment. The two friends debate the significance of Abraham and Isaac but the parallel to Madoff’s son is never drawn. It would have been so satisfying for us to see Madoff realize he did sacrifice his son (who committed suicide after the scandal) as Abraham would have had God not intervened. Margolin doesn’t connect those dots for some reason. Perhaps she knows we will connect them ourselves. Her limited IMAGINING left me wanting so much more.