Wiesenthal

Tom Dugan
The Acorn Theatre, New York

Wiesenthal

Simon Wiesenthal was a legendary figure whose tenacity brought 1,100 Nazi war criminals to justice.

Although his efforts have been commemorated in various media, including when Lord Olivier embodied him in The Boys from Brazil, additional reminders of the saintly Simon, but also the atrocities that he sought to avenge, are always valuable.

The Wiesenthal presented on Theatre Row at The Acorn is an old man on the day of his retirement, 58 years after commencing his crusade to hunt down those responsible for the Holocaust.

Tottering around a Viennese office, lavishly furnished and ornamented by ace scenic designer Beowulf Boritt, Tom Dugan attempts both to tell the Simon Wiesenthal story and allow viewers to see a representation of this exceptional character.

Dugan, who performs the 90-minute piece as well as writing it, as a Roman Catholic might not be obvious casting but utilises a thick, quasi-Germanic accent to cover the fact.

He commences by charming and amusing the audience before turning to historical fact and explaining that Wiesenthal was a victim, losing his mother and wife to the Nazis and suffering in a series of concentration camps himself.

After the War, he had the opportunity to assist the Americans as they sought to track down those responsible for the genocide that accounted for 6 million Jews but also another 5 million mixed “undesirables”.

As they tired, he became superhuman, devoting his life to the cause. Along the way, one miraculous story warms the heart as his dead wife reappears and stays in the picture right through to retirement day in 2003.

The strongest elements of the monologue come with the testimonies and tales of Nazis heroically hunted down, often in far-flung places.

Early on, Wiesenthal explains that he has been likened to James Bond, which seems odd until you understand his achievements, not to mention some threats on his life and those of family members.

His message is that we should not forget, leading him to trace, amongst others, the man who arrested Anne Frank, to make a point to a group of young Holocaust deniers.

There is a very strong hour-long play buried in rather too much modern froth designed to make Simon Wiesenthal come to life rather like a modern museum exhibit using actors and artifice rather than relying on good old hard facts. That is a pity, since the underlying thesis and tales of miraculous detective work really are inspiring.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher