Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Dense Drama Opens at New Jewish Theatre; Holocaust Survivor Crosses Paths with Infamous Ponzi Scheme Swindler in 'Imagining Madoff'; THEATER

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Dense Drama Opens at New Jewish Theatre; Holocaust Survivor Crosses Paths with Infamous Ponzi Scheme Swindler in 'Imagining Madoff'; THEATER

Article excerpt

Real people are not metaphors, and characters in plays are not real people. But in her dense, provocative drama "Imagining Madoff," playwright Deb Margolin follows the treacherous path where those distinctions blur.

And how could an artist like Margolin resist, when real life provided her with such rich metaphoric material?

"Imagining Madoff," which just opened at the New Jewish Theatre, sketches portraits of two prominent Jewish men whose paths crossed a few years ago in New York. Solomon Galkin (Jerry Vogel) is a Nobel laureate, renowned poet and Holocaust survivor (a character plainly based on Elie Weisel), a genuinely good man whose life and work inspire people around the world. Bernie Madoff (Bobby Miller), who does not get a pseudonym, orchestrated the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, taking more than $50 billion from millionaires and ordinary people, from schools and charities. In real life, Weisel was among Madoff's victims.

Margolin's play opens with Madoff in a bare cell, recalling a long night he once spent with Galkin. After a benefit dinner, Galkin invited Madoff to his home for a nightcap and wide-ranging conversation.

It provides plenty of meat for Miller and Vogel, two of St. Louis' best actors, directed here by Lee Anne Mathews.

Miller hunched and nasal, as if he might choke off his words before they can leave his mouth creates a very ordinary devil. His Madoff doesn't come across as a king of criminals, or even as an exceptional businessman.

He's secretive, though, as his secretary (Julie Layton, in a solid performance) reminds us from her seat in an SEC witness box. The scenes of her testimony, which are spliced into the men's conversation, make us remember the enormity of Madoff's crimes so seemingly disproportionate to the middle-aged man before our eyes.

With his silver curls and slight accent, Galkin does seem special, endowed by Vogel with a magnetic allure. He, too, has secrets, memories too terrible to reduce to anecdotes in conversation.

But some of them are alluded to on the screen at one end of designer Kyra Bishop's thoughtful, narrow set, a kind of "street" that runs down the middle of the theater. It reaches from the death camps to Madoff's cell. …

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