Vivid portrait of an unlikely hero TheatreReview
Nazi hunter gives insight into horrors of Holocaust
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.