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Imagining Madoff
by Deb Margolin
Directed by Lee Anne Matthews
New Jewish Theatre
January 22, 2015

Jerry Vogel, Bobby Miller Photo by Eric Woolsey New Jewish Theatre

Jerry Vogel, Bobby Miller
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

When a person commits a high-profile crime, one of the most common questions asked is, why?  Bernard Madoff, probably the most famous fraudster in recent memory, is the subject of that question in Deb Margolin’s thoughtful three-character drama Imagining Madoff, currently being presented at New Jewish Theatre.  While the answer isn’t easy to discern, Margolin’s exploration of the concepts of morality, greed, and human nature provides an opportunity for thought, reflection, and extremely strong performances, including those of two of St. Louis’s most prominent actors.

This play doesn’t give easy answers.  In fact, it’s more of an exploration of Madoff’s motives than an accurate recounting of his story, and the “moral” seems to be along the lines of the familiar tale of “The Scorpion and the Frog”. Exploring the relationship between Madoff (Bobby Miller) with fictional poet, humanitarian and Holocaust survivor Solomon Galkin (Jerry Vogel), the play examines Jewish tradition and belief, as well as the concepts of trust and faith. Meanwhile, a parallel story tells of Madoff’s trial, as his longtime secretary ((Julie Layton) recounts the history of his crimes from her perspective.  It’s a long play for there only being one act, and the action drags from time to time, especially in the beginning, but there are some truly fascinating concepts explored as Margolin explores what makes Madoff tick.

This is something of a stylized show in terms of setting, with an excellent, extremely detailed set by Kyra Bishop. It features areas representing the courtroom, Galkin’s study and Madoff’s jail cell, and the action shifts between these three locations as Madoff wanders the stage sharing his own reflections on life, people, faith and philosphy, and money. The ideally suited costumes by Michele Friedman Siler add to the authentic feel of the play. The technical aspects of this show are top-notch as is usual for New Jewish Theatre, with the exception of some distracting and occasionally irrelevant projections that are shown during various moments. For the most part, these do little more than add a “gimmick” aspect to the show that it doesn’t need.

As is expected from exceptional talents like Vogel and Miller, the acting is the strongest aspect of this production. As Madoff, Miller is at turns witty, caustic, self-confident and self-doubting, portraying a mixture of disbelief and wonder during his encounter with the virtuous Galkin. Vogel, for his part, is the picture of erudite nobility as the devout, caring and possibly too-trusting Galkin.  It’s a multi-dimensional performance with a great deal of gravity, making the prospect of Madoff’s betrayal seem all the more monstrous in comparison. Layton is also impressive as the secretary who tries to maintain her sense of professionalism in the midst of her growing sense of anger and betrayal as she recounts her working relationship with Madoff.

Imagining Madoff is a little hard to follow at times, although at its best moments, it’s riveting. It’s a compelling exploration of history, ethics, honor, and a pathological scammer’s need to scam no matter who is hurt in the process, including himself.  Featuring some of the finest talent St. Louis theatre has to offer, New Jewish Theatre has presented an intriguing look at an infamous figure in recent history. It’s a production that’s sure to provoke much thought and discussion.

Jerry Vogel, Bobby Miller Photo by Eric Woolsey New Jewish Theatre

Jerry Vogel, Bobby Miller
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

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