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A CurtainUp Review
By Joyce Friedland

Revenge cannot be the goal. It was for me at the beginning. But I soon learned that it was justice not vengeance that I wanted.
Tom Dugan (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
The play is simply called Wiesenthal, not "Simon Wiesenthal," or "Nazi Hunter." It is about an ordinary man who proved that one person could make a difference. Although he became known throughout the western world as the man who would hunt down Nazi criminals and bring them to justice, the name "Wiesenthal" has come to have a broader meaning — that of tolerance and justice for all, not just revenge for World War II atrocities against the Jews.

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.

Wiesenthal by Tom Dugan
Director: Jenny Sullivan
Cast Tom Dugan (Simon Wiesenthal)
Scenic design Beowulf Boritt
Costume design Alex Jaeger
Lighting Design Joel E. Silver
Sound Design Shane Bettig
Stage Manager Katherine Barrett
Running Time 90 minutes with no intermission
Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street 212-239-6200
From 10/24/14; opening 11/05/14; closing 2/01/14.
Tuesdays and Thursday at 7pm, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturday at 8pm, with matinees Saturdays at 2pm and Sunday at 3pm.
Reviewed by Joyce Friedland at 11/03 press preview
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