Yesterday’s news, falling as it did during the middle of the Shavuot holiday, summoned a number of reflections, though the holiday may have kept others from making a timely response. The New York Times encapsulated The Washington Post story on their Arts Beat on-line section — and the same piece appears today in their print edition. Of the half dozen responses on the Times site, one thoughtful note comes from a reader who actually attended Theater J’s December 19 reading of the play:
from Steven Hirsch, Bethesda, MD
May 19th, 2010 @ 1:00 pm
This is indeed a sad development. I heard a reading of “Imagining Madoff” at the DC Jewish Community Center last year and experienced it as the profound and profoundly absorbing metaphor for our times that I believe the author, Deb Margolin, intended it to be. In no way was it defamatory of Mr. Wiesel, a giant of our age. I find it deeply distressing that Mr. Wiesel would object to its performance, thereby depriving a wider audience of exposure to this beautiful and deeply evocative theater piece.
In sorrow and respect for Ms. Margolin’s decision not to try to re-do her play with a stand-in character to replace Mr. Wiesel– the play’s the thing! – Steve Hirsch
Other thoughtful questions follow as readers ask “What are the rules for defaming or misrepresenting a public figure? (AVENUE Q, for example, has been offering a totally fictitious Gary Coleman for years. I doubt that George W. would have enjoyed Will Farrell’s Broadway show.)” Also noteworthy, is Gary of New Haven’s response that “Deb Margolin bathes her characters, Wiesel especially, with love. To read this beautiful work as defamatory or offensive to Wiesel is to have read a different script entirely.”
In a different on-line posting, attorney Arthur Hessel writes, “Wiesel’s reaction is understandable, if unfortunate. As time goes by, he may realize that his reaction was too quick (and will cause him more notariety than he would have otherwise been the case), but it is clear that you had no choice. But I wouldn’t burn the script yet.”
Many different papers and theater sites have picked up the original Washington Post story through wire services. Blogs have offered their own takes. A site called Gratuitous Violins wonders whether “‘Enron’ playwright Lucy Prebble received any correspondence from the very much alive Jeffrey Skilling and Andrew Fastow” in writing her dramatization. Of course, like Madoff, Skilling and Fastow were convicted of financial crimes, whereas Elie Wiesel has been moved to protect his name, reputation, and legacy.
The blog Parabasis asks,
“Is it really an invasion of privacy? If it’s clearly labeled as a work of fiction? Where are the lines here? The late, lamented Law & Order mothership made its bones on (sometimes very) lightly fictionalizing real world figures. Of course, those stories were about crimes, and often did ascribe some pretty unsavory acts to those figures. Could this play have ventured into that realm? Or maybe it was just an unflattering light and Wiesel is defending his legacy?
The worst part is we’ll never know. We’ll never know what Deb Margolin has to say about Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme and how someone like Elie Wiesel was so fooled. That might have been an important story. Is protecting Wiesel’s reputation more important?
Meanwhile, interest in Deb’s play will only grow as the result of this publicity. Deb continues to work on the play. There will be at least one reading of the play (which version, I’m not certain) coming up next month in Manhattan. As Arthur Hessel suggests, it might yet find its way back to Theater J. And cooler consideration of a finely written work may prevail as well and the result, after this bit of heat, will be a penetrating theatrical work of imagination and pathos. We’re losing that now, for the time being. We’ll, as always, be looking to create it anew…