How 2013 Became the Year of Bernie Madoff

Financier's Saga Was Dramatized On Screen and Stage

A Streetcar Named Baldwin: Alec Baldwin played a character reminiscent of Bernie Madoff in Woody Allen’s film ‘Blue Jasmine,’ a riff on ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’ by Tennessee Williams.
Sony Pictures Classics
A Streetcar Named Baldwin: Alec Baldwin played a character reminiscent of Bernie Madoff in Woody Allen’s film ‘Blue Jasmine,’ a riff on ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’ by Tennessee Williams.

By Yevgeniya Traps

Published December 31, 2013, issue of December 27, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Here is a corollary to Marx’s great insight that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, itself a clarification of Hegel’s sense that people and events recur: Scandal, too, will repeat itself; first as laboriously documented news, then as thinly veiled fiction.

Consider the case of Bernard “Bernie” Madoff: Even the name seems somehow destined for tragedy with the casual intimacy and playfulness of “Bernie,” the foreshadowing of madness. When Madoff was arrested five years ago, the details of his scheme came tumbling out, each revelation somehow leading inexorably to another horror. There was the greed, of course. And the fact that his sons had turned him in. And that one of those sons committed suicide on the second anniversary of Madoff’s arrest. And there was the wife who may have known a lot more than she let on.

And somewhere there was a dramatist who, looking on, was gleeful and enthralled. Actually, a lot of dramatists: 2013 was the year of Madoff on stage and screen.

First, there was this summer’s film “Blue Jasmine,” Woody Allen’s attempt to figure out what would happen if Ruth Madoff were crossed with Blanche DuBois. At once topical and timeless, the film gave Allen observers the chance to indulge in their favorite pastime — the point-counterpoint investigation of whether he still has it or has definitively lost it, or finally found it again. Everyone agreed that Cate Blanchett was luminous in the titular role, but some indicted Allen for the apparent relish with which he draws Jasmine’s unraveling. Willfully blind, determinedly delusional, Jasmine pays for the sins of the husband, consumed by her own conspicuous consumption. Forced to rely on the kindness of strangers, she finds that strangers (and friends and family) are hardly kind.

In the meantime, old Bernie found himself in a hell (not entirely unlike New York) in Lee Blessing’s play “A User’s Guide to Hell,” where he was forced to be fellow to the likes of Josef Mengele. Perhaps this makes sense: Madoff’s most famous victim is Elie Wiesel.

Which brings us to Deb Margolin’s play “Imagining Madoff,” wherein Bernie discussed ethics (ha ha) with a poet who happens to be a Holocaust survivor. (According to The New York Times, Wiesel demanded a rewrite of a character too much like himself.)

Both “User’s Guide” and “Imagining” played back in September. But if you want still more Madoff, fear not: “The Commons of Pensacola,” Amanda Peet’s play about a fallen financier’s wife and her daughter, who, in a twist worthy of Marx’s sentiment, wants to make a reality show about her mother’s life, is playing in New York through January 26 at City Center right now.

Yevgeniya Traps writes frequently about the arts for the Forward.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.