Arts Desk

Chasing and Imagining Bernard Madoff

The timing of the documentary Chasing Madoff, which opened today at E Street Cinema, couldn't be more appropriate for D.C. audiences. The new film, directed by Jeff Prosserman, follows the case laid out by Harry Markopolos, the Boston-based investment adviser who first suspected something was off with the returns delivered by Bernard Madoff's securities firm in 1999. Despite repeated attempts to warn the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, and other investigatory bodies that Madoff's fund was a scam, Markopolos' complaints fell on deaf ears. Of course, it wasn't until December 2008 that Madoff's sons turned their father in, revealing a 40-year Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors of nearly $65 billion.

Markopolos penned his version of events in March 2010 with No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller. The book was the spark for Chasing Madoff, which follows Markopolos and a few others who suspected Madoff of financial foul play. Attempting to sound the alarms briefly turned Markopolos from a stable, suburban husband and into a fearful, paranoid man who even resorted to carrying a gun. Madoff of course now resides in a federal prison in North Carolina, but for nearly a decade, his avarice and influence drowned out the small voice speaking the truth.

Lost in the Madoff scheme were the investments of numerous foundations, universities, hospitals, and individuals. Madoff especially liked to prey on older Jewish investors, the most famous of whom right now is probably Fred Wilpon, owner of the New York Mets. Another high-profile victim was Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor, author, and humanitarian whose foundation lost nearly all its assets to Madoff's scheme.

Deb Margolin

Next week, Theater J will begin previews of Imagining Madoff, a new play by Deb Margolin finally opening after a one-year delay. In its original form, the play famously imagined an encounter between Madoff and Wiesel and was slated to open Theater J's 2010-2011 season until the real Wiesel caught wind and threatened to sue, calling his characterization "obscene" and "defamatory." Theater J relented and pulled the show from last year's lineup.

Margolin then rewrote the show to replace Wiesel with a wholly invented character—an elderly synagogue treasurer—who still loses everything to Madoff. The new version of Imagining Madoff debuted last August at a playhouse in Hudson, N.Y. (We reviewed it, somewhat tepidly.)

Ari Roth, Theater J's artistic director, was intent on producing Imagining Madoff. He told Washington City Paper in March that true to his earlier promise, the show would open the 2011-2012 season. Roth and Margolin tuned up the script, and the Alexandra Aron-directed show is finally set to play on its intended stage starting next week. Rick Foucheux stars as Madoff and Mike Nussbaum plays Solomon Galkin, the Wiesel stand-in. Jennifer Mendenhall has been cast as Madoff's secretary.

Imagining Madoff may have swapped out Elie Wiesel, but it appears the philosophical effect remains intact. Madoff's ruinous effect had a greater impact on people like Wiesel. But first, with Chasing Madoff and the story of Harry Markopolos' one-man investigation, we can contemplate the criminal side.

It's Madoff week.

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