Imagining Madoff: Elie Wiesel, Theater J, and This Week’s Cover Story
D.C.'s Theater J may have backed down from placing fictionalized versions of Bernie Madoff and Elie Wiesel on the same stage, but for this week's City Paper, we were happy to place them on the same cover. Film and Theater Editor Ted Scheinman and I wrote this week's cover story, in which we reconstruct the events that the led to Deb Margolin pulling her play Imagining Madoff from Theater J's 2010-2011 season after Wiesel objected to her script. In between, Margolin and Theater J's artistic director, Ari Roth, decided that rather than offend the humanitarian icon Margolin would revise the play. When Roth made plain his intention to allow Wiesel a look at the new, Wiesel-less draft, Margolin walked.
The Washington Post first reported the story last week, and there's been a whole slew of coverage since, most of which Theater J has collected, and commented on, on its blog. Today it points to our story, as well as a package in the Washington Jewish Week, which includes a news piece, a sidebar about the content of the play, and an editorial (!). Take it away, Washington Jewish Week editorial board:
Just as the play itself raises questions about morality, this real-life drama, too, raises questions.
Was Wiesel justified in claiming defamation, or, is he just blowing smoke with his legal threats? Is he squelching artistic freedom and putting a damper on free speech, or as a living, breathing human being, does he have a right to expect that a playwright not put him at the center of a fictional conversation — even as a metaphorical moral foil for the immoral Madoff?
Are Margolin, and more so, Roth, unduly deferential (an uncharacteristic word to apply to Roth) in dealing with Wiesel? Or, does Wiesel deserve a certain deference that would not apply, for example, to an elected official or Hollywood celebrity? Or, is he risking his status as the voice of moral authority by his actions in this case?
At the play's end, Wiesel says, as he did in real life, that he cannot forgive Madoff. Can lovers of artistic integrity forgive Wiesel — or, Roth?
As we did in our story, the Jewish Week frames the whole sequence of events as something of a real-life drama. The aftermath, I think, has generated some pretty fascinating debate about the issues of fictionalizing public figures. So does Ari Roth. Or did. "And that's enough!" he writes today on the Theater J blog before quoting a letter he sent to Theater J's advisory board and staff:
The most important news, really, is that we love the NEW PLAY we’ve committed to in the place of IMAGINING MADOFF. That would be SOMETHING YOU DID, which we read privately over the weekend, the playwright delivering an extraordinary rewrite, major updates, a new surprise (and much better) ending, and still more great work to come. Love that. And also believe that we will be meeting up with Deb Margolin’s play when it’s ready for us to produce.