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A CurtainUp Review
By Joyce Friedland
The play is set in Vienna in 2003, on the day before Wiesenthal is going to retire. The contents of his humble office— its books, its files, its furniture — are to be shipped to the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance. But it is clear that Wiesenthal, who is now ninety-five years old, has no intention of really retiring. He has another Nazi, Alois Brunner, to pursue and will continue to educate groups of people. This is evidenced by a series of phone calls he initiates and his gathering together of documents that he stuffs into a paper bag to take home with him.
Simon Wiesenthal (as played by Tom Dugan, who also wrote the play) greets his visitors, who are the audience. He is a benign, arthritic old man who uses humor to lighten his story. As a writer Dugan has stayed close to the facts, taking little artistic license. As an actor, he relates the details of Wiesenthal's life as a victim of Nazi oppression and then as an obsessed hunter of Nazis who have never been punished for their crimes.
He reveals the toughness and perseverance beneath a gentle veneer. It is a gripping performance only occasionally diminished by a slip in and out of an accent meant to identify him as a Jewish man from eastern Europe. The accent also wavers when Dugan takes on the part of a young boy and uses a faintly western U.S. accent.
The setting, designed by Beowulf Boritt, is Wiesenthal's office, a place that reflects the character of its occupant. The furniture is practical and well worn, giving the impression that it has been well used. The room is currently cluttered with packing boxes and Wiesenthal's books are still in some disarray on the shelves. In a series of flashbacks, Wiesenthal tells about his past. The scenery never changes, but the lights on the stage are lowered and a sharp light is focused on Wiesenthal (good work by Joel E. Silver).
Wiesenthal's final departure from the place that has been his office and his home-away-from-home for the past fifty-six years reveals a striking contrast between the image of an ordinary, elderly man and the vision of this same man, heroically instrumental in the capture of Adolph Eichmann and hundreds of other Nazi war criminals.
Dugan's script only hints at the controversy that often surrounded Wiesenthal's activities, even by Jewish intellectuals, such as Eli Wiesel. It is sure to be a catalyst for further research on the life of Simon Wiesenthal and discussion about the many ways his work is relevant today.