A 'Key' moment after 'Madoff' dust-up

LIFE AFTER THEATER J: Mark Margolis and Robin Leslie Brown in Deb Margolin's
LIFE AFTER THEATER J: Mark Margolis and Robin Leslie Brown in Deb Margolin's "Imagining Madoff" at Stageworks/Hudson. (Rob Shannon)
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By Jane Horwitz
Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The most tangible sign that Theater J and playwright Deb Margolin are mending fences is "Three Seconds in the Key."

Theater J will present a staged reading of Margolin's very personal 2001 play Monday atthe Lincoln Theatre ( The event is part of "Backstage at the Lincoln," a play reading series by the Lincoln, Theater J and the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

"All signs are pointing toward a successful collaboration," says Theater J's Ari Roth.

The tension between Theater J and the playwright, who is an associate professor of theater at Yale, occurred last May when she pulled her play "Imagining Madoff" at Theater J rather than rewrite it under what she said were impossible circumstances.

In "Imagining Madoff," Margolin used a fictionalized version of Holocaust survivor, author and human rights activist Elie Wiesel. She created a dialogue between Wiesel and convicted Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff, using Wiesel's persona as a kind of moral ideal in contrast to Madoff.

Wiesel objected, threatening legal action. Roth told Wiesel's representatives that he would have Margolin revise the play using an entirely new character. She began the process, but ultimately decided to take her play elsewhere.

"The difficulty we had went viral," the playwright says. She changed the Wiesel character into a fictional man named Solomon Galkin with a moral profile much like Wiesel's. The new version of "Imagining Madoff" was done last July by Stageworks/Hudson in Hudson, N.Y.

"I have great hopes for the future of that play and I hope to be able to bring it to you there," Margolin says. "Ari has been very warm and very encouraging about the possibility of producing the show at Theater J. Certainly, after everything that we went through, it would be a full circle."

"Three Seconds in the Key" predates "Imagining Madoff" and emerged from Margolin's real-life struggle with Hodgkin's disease and how she maintained the bond with her then-8-year-old son by joining him in his love of the New York Knicks.

"My son got me involved watching basketball," Margolin says. "I did it because it was a way I could spend time with him. I was very exhausted. He wanted me to play basketball with him . . . so we borrowed the bodies of these men on television. In the presence of my illness and his youth, these were the bodies we could share. I felt like these men were helping me raise my son," says Margolin, now healthy.

In other Theater J news, its managing director since 2003, Patricia Jenson, is moving on to become director of development at the Washington Ballet on Jan. 3. Roth credits Jenson with helping the theater raise its profile and grow its audience.

"I had a really great experience here," Jenson says of her time at Theater J. "I have grown so much personally [and] professionally, but it was time for me to look for new challenges."

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