Vivid por­trait of an un­likely hero TheatreRe­view

Nazi hunter gives insight into hor­rors of Holo­caust

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - ARTS & LIFE -

OFF­SET­TING some­times grim sub­ject mat­ter, the set­ting of ac­tor-play­wright Tom Du­gan’s one-man play, Wiesen­thal, is the a dis­arm­ingly clut­tered Vi­enna of­fice of the tire­less Nazi hunter Si­mon Wiesen­thal.

The of­fice known as the Jewish Doc­u­men­ta­tion Cen­ter — de­signed for the play by Beowulf Boritt — is lined with book­shelves and fur­nished with shabby chairs, ta­bles, fam­ily pho­tos, boxes of files and a pa­per-strewn desk. On the rear wall hangs a map show­ing the lo­ca­tions of many of the con­cen­tra­tion camps that sprang up like so many can­cer­ous ma­lig­nan­cies through­out Europe dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

In the fore­ground, Wiesen­thal stands on un­steady, 90-year-old legs that be­lie the rock-steady moral stature of a man who has ded­i­cated RMTC Ware­house To Dec. 5 Tick­ets $22-$41 at www.royalmtc.ca

½ out of five

But he’s not all busi­ness. He’s a man given to telling lovely old jokes to break the tension. Phone con­ver­sa­tions with his wife re­veal a man some­times in­con­ve­nienced by the de­mands of do­mes­tic­ity, but tak­ing great plea­sure in it any­way.

As for that of­fice, it may look clut­tered to us, but Wiesen­thal only has to reach out to grab what­ever item he seeks, a pho­to­graph of Adolf Eich­mann — an ar­chi­tect of mass mur­der with the de­meanour of a “book­keeper” — or a box of hate mail (la­belled “M” for meshug­gah, the Yid­dish word for crazy) or the scrap of pa­per on which is scrib­bled the last tes­ta­ment of an 11-year-old boy be­fore his cap­ture by the Nazis.

For all its chaotic ap­pear­ance, this is a set laid out with ex­act­ing pre­ci­sion.

As it is with the set, so it is with the play. Du­gan the play­wright has fash­ioned a work that of­fers per­haps a too-neat sum­mary of a com­plex fig­ure.

Du­gan the ac­tor sus­tains a tremen­dously con­trolled per­for­mance over the course of the drama’s in­ter­mis­sion-free 90 min­utes.

Be­cause Wiesen­thal is a fig­ure of ed­u­ca­tional im­por­tance, Du­gan con­ceived the show as a PG-rated af­fair, hold­ing back on some of the more hor­ri­fy­ing as­pects of the Holo­caust so as not to trau­ma­tize younger au­di­ence mem­bers. In that way, this is a good show for older kids, laced with tragedy, hor­ror and droll wit that is, mirac­u­lously, never in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

Du­gan may err on the side of over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion. For ex­am­ple, we hear how, con­fronted with a group of young peo­ple who claim the diary of Anne Frank was a hoax, Wiesen­thal sets about find­ing and ar­rest­ing the Nazi who cap­tured the child. Case closed. As if that strat­egy would ac­tu­ally si­lence an Anne Frank de­nier, let alone a Holo­caust de­nier.

Still, Du­gan — a 54-year-old of Ir­ish-Catholic ex­trac­tion — steam­rolls over such quib­bles with a pow­er­fully charis­matic per­for­mance.

The ac­tor es­tab­lishes a strong rap­port with the au­di­ence that holds through scenes both har­row­ing and mov­ing.

Take your teen.

RAN­DALL

KING

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