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A CurtainUp Review
Imagining Madoff


The best-kept secrets are the ones you never tell. I kept quiet. That's how I did it. — Bernie Madoff to Solomon Galkin.
Deb Margolin's Imagining Madoff, now playing at Washington's Theater J, was, originally, an imaginary dialogue between swindler Bernie Madoff and Nobel Prize winner and investor with Madoff, Elie Wiesel. It's been re-written because Wiesel, victimized by the Holocaust and by Madoff, objected vehemently, threatening legal action against the playwright.

Margolin's two-hander is still a fictional dialogue. The character of Madoff remains but his foil is a poet, a Holocaust survivor and scholar named Solomon Galkin, whose synagogue invests with Madoff. Galkin pleads with Madoff to help him with his personal portfolio but Madoff, in a rare display of decency resists.

As Madoff, Rick Foucheux, a pillar of the Washington theater community, gives one of his characteristically fine performances. His Madoff is unrepentant, crude, and yet hard-to-hate. A con man all the way. Mike Nussbaum's Solomon Galkin looks and sounds more like a rabbi than a poet. He's a respected scholar, whose Torah readings particularly as they pertain to repentance and the void that is death are sincere.

Playwright Margolin and director Alexandra Aron fail to make the men's backstory clear. We are told in the program mptes that these two characters are having an imagined conversation but conversations usually involve verbal give and take. Not so in Imaging Madoff which sounds more like a series of monologues interspersed with some very bad, very old jokes; for example, "Ginger Rogers, heels, backwards," and "How many (Jews, lesbians) does it take to change a light bulb?" Spare us this stuff, please.

In testimony before the SEC Madoff's loyal secretary tells the truth, but the truth is that she really did not know the details of her boss's business until his crimes and their magnitude were exposed in a criminal investigation. Jennifer Mendenhall, a superb actress, brings to this role a sense of shame as well as pathos. You hang on every word she says. How could someone as decent as this have been caught up in such nefarious dealings? Easy-- she, like so many others believed in Madoff.

Scenic Designer Lauren Helpern's set is very clever. Lined with floor to ceiling shelves containing only books, representing the presence of learning, the poet's study is inviting, eloquent in its symbolism of knowledge. For the scenes where Madoff is in jail, iron bars are superimposed over the books. The visual dichotomy is the most striking element in Imagining Madoff.

Imagining Madoff by Deb Margolin
Director: Alexandra Aron
Cast; Bernie Madoff (Rick Foucheux); Jennifer Mendenhall (Secretary); Mike Nussbaum (Solomon Galkin).
Scenic Designer: Lauren Helpern
Lighting Designer: Dan Covey
Costume Designer: Debra Kim Sivigny
Running time: 90 minutes.
From 8/31/11 to 9/25/11
Theater J, 1529 Sixteenth Street, NW; Washington, DC; 202-777-3210; theaterj.org.
Review by Susan Davidson based on September 3, 2011 performance.

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