The Bilking Ilk | Visual Art | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram
Pin It

The Bilking Ilk 

Stephen Singer plays Bernie Madoff in the Stageworks/Hudson production of "Imagining Madoff" this month.
  • Stephen Singer plays Bernie Madoff in the Stageworks/Hudson production of "Imagining Madoff" this month.

The man who bilked people out of $65 billion seems an unlikely subject of a play. But in an era rife with antiheroes, when even the Enron suits merit a Broadway musical, why shouldn’t Bernie Madoff’s rise and fall be the stuff of stage drama?

But celebrated off-Broadway playwright Deborah Margolin, whose "Imagining  Madoff" opens this month at Stageworks/Hudson, wasn’t looking for a theatrical equivalent of angry mobs with torches. Instead, she wanted to understand what motivated Madoff to maintain his Ponzi scheme for two decades, before a judge sentenced him to 150 years for crimes against humanity.

“The beauty of theater,” says Margolin, who has been writing and acting since the late 70s, is that “you’re going to have to find a clinical compassion for whomever you are representing—to drop down into the body or the mind of the character you’re writing for, or portraying, and see the world through that person’s eyes.”
When the playwright began "Imagining" last year, she had to do so literally; Madoff had been notoriously tight-lipped, betraying neither motive nor emotion as he testified in court before the world. Therefore, Margolin was forced to speculate what possessed the man to persist in his pyramid deals and how he rationalized it personally.

“I listened for his voice,” she says. In the play, Madoff sits in his cell, discussing his situation with an obedient assistant and a wise man that challenges his amorality. (The wise man was originally meant to be Eli Weisel, but the philosopher-Holocaust scribe balked at being depicted.)

Margolin depicts a deeply cynical man who sees only a greedy world and, bolstered by his presumptions, simply mirrors that persona. Nonetheless, even this monster tailor-made for a new “Me Decade” emerges, under Margolin’s expert treatment, as a complicated person weighing the chances for redemption. (The scenario brings to mind Roy Cohn in "Angels in America," railing on his deathbed.)

“I sought and found his humanity,” she said, “twisted, numb, and neglected by him as that was.”
One of the first people to read the first draft was Laura Margolis, founder and artistic director of Stageworks/Hudson. At the time last summer, she was staging a Margolin one-act titled "This Is What I Wanted" for their annual one-act festival. Margolis offered to mount the Madoff play this summer, Stageworks’ 15th season,“I think she’s an astonishing, visionary director,“ says Margolin, an Obie award winner for lifetime achievement, of Margolis, who offered direction and support for a second draft of the text. “I have been educated by every conversation I’ve had with her.”

Presenting offbeat works is the mandate of Stageworks/Hudson, Margolis says. Conventional “kitchen sink plays” are avoided, as are revivals of crowd-pleasing classics. In the past, when Margolis strayed from her commitment to edgy pieces, “our audiences have gotten angry at us.”

Joining "Imagining Madoff" this season is "Or," a postmodern imagining of a feminist rebel in 1660s England by Liz Duffy Adams (ending July 4); "The Amish Project" by Jessica Dickey (August 18-September 5), which examines a tragedy in this close-knit community; and the annual Play by Play Festival (September 29-October 10).

"This year’s plays," says Stageworks’ Margolis, ”send a very strong message but without being political.”

"Imagining Madoff" by Deborah Margolin, July 21-August 8 at Stageworks/Hudson, 41-A Cross Street, Hudson. Tickets $18-$29. (518) 822-9667;


Pin It


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

Hudson Valley Events

submit event
Giant Tag Sale to Benefit Hudson Chorale @ Private Residence

Giant Tag Sale to Benefit Hudson Chorale

Fri., Sept. 22, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sat., Sept. 23, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. — We receive both used and new donated items in a wide variety...
Dancing On The Edge: Isadora Duncan in Russia @ McKenna Theatre

Dancing On The Edge: Isadora Duncan in Russia

Fri., Sept. 22, 7:30-9:30 p.m. and Sat., Sept. 23, 7:30-9:30 p.m. — Raised in New Paltz, actor-director and theater professor Lisa Channer returns to...

View all of today's events

Latest in Visual Art

  • Olana, with The Ancram Opera House, presents an original play in landscape
  • Olana, with The Ancram Opera House, presents an original play in landscape

    Performing Olana: Frederic Church living his art Olana and Ancram Opera House collaborate to produce a theater performance specifically created to take place in the landscape of the historic site. The dramatic work draws inspiration from Frederic Church’s paintings, letters, family life and the celebrated landscape and is presented as an immersive theater experience in which performer and audience journey together into Church's art. FRI 6PM | SAT 2PM, 4PM, 6PM | SUN 2PM, 4PM, 6PM Member: $10, Non-Member: $15, Family (up to 5): $40
    • Sep 21, 2017
  • Fall for Art, Juried Art Show, Sale & Fundraising Reception
  • Fall for Art, Juried Art Show, Sale & Fundraising Reception

    Fall for Art, a juried art show, sale and fundraising reception (hosted by the Jewish Federation of Ulster County) Thursday, September 7th at The Chateau in Kingston, 5:00-9:00 pm, features 29 area artists. Reservations: ($45 p/p) at, or 845-338-8131.
    • Sep 7, 2017
  • More »

Related to Visual Art

More by Jay Blotcher

Hudson Valley Tweets