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!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • 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.