A User’s Guide to Hell, featuring Bernard Madoff.Atlantic Stage 2 (see Off-Off Broadway). By Lee Blessing. Directed by Michole Biancosino. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission.
A User’s Guide to Hell, featuring Bernard Madoff: in brief
Veteran playwright Lee Blessing damns megafraudster Bernie Madoff to a New York–ish hell of his own making in a bitter new satire, directed by Michole Biancosino for Project Y Theatre Company.
A User’s Guide to Hell, featuring Bernard Madoff: theater review by Diane Snyder
Despite its tantalizing title, A User’s Guide to Hell, featuring Bernard Madoff is surprisingly tame. Tony-nominated playwright Lee Blessing sends the disgraced financier (Edward James Hyland) on a Dante-esque journey through a Hell remarkably like present-day New York, with an average joe named Verge (David Deblinger) as his Virgil. But Blessing rarely probes past surface notions—human arrogance, damnation being what we make it. After initially disavowing the concept of an afterlife, Madoff is soon eager to be punished for his sins. It’s a yearning that’s never fulfilled, even though he encounters Nazi doctor Josef Mengele and gets fucked in the ass (literally) by September 11 terrorist Mohamed Atta.
Outrageous antics aside, the satire we’ve been promised doesn’t arrive until the denouement, as a surprise twist. Michole Biancosino’s Project Y Theatre production struggles to shape something articulate out of this mess of ideas and coarse humor, although she does get pleasing turns from Deblinger and Eric Sutton, as the Inferno’s male residents, and a moving one from Erika Rose, multiple-playing its female inhabitants. As Madoff, Hyland sputters and looks perplexed, but never arrives at a dynamic character. Not that he has a lot to work with: The soul of this piece never made it out of Purgatory.—Theater review by Diane Snyder
Follow Diane Snyder on Twitter: @DianeLSnyder
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