Sunday, June 30, 2019

One Man's Pursuit: Tom Dugan's 'Wiesenthal' Powerfully Explores the Famed Nazi Hunter -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

written & performed by Tom Dugan
North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie, IL
Thru June 30
Also presented nationwide 

"We must speak of all genocides to prevent all genocides."

This is just one of the incisive statements uttered by Tom Dugan as the title character in his one-man play, Wiesenthal.

Certainly there are others with which I could have begun this review, such as "Shame is the most dangerous force in all human life," or as a universal thought in reference to the bookish but malevolent Adolf Eichmann:

"If an average man is capable of such things, then so am I."

But while Dugan delivers his well-acted 90-minute monologue specifically in the guise of Simon Wiesenthal--a Holocaust survivor who dedicated the remainder of his life to hunting Nazi war criminals--nearly as harrowing as the history shared are the rejoinders that resonate in the present tense.

Dugan wrote Wiesenthal in 2011 (or sometime prior) and I didn't sense any obvious modern additions or ad-libs.

But when he cites Adolf Hitler as a charismatic public speaker who appealed to downtrodden Germans by demonizing Jews, well, I couldn't help but cringe at similar scapegoating of Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans in modern day America.

While the play avoids delving in into allegations of exaggerations, inconsistencies, etc., in Wiesenthal's own recollections and autobiographies, it's to the credit of Dugan--an Irish Catholic from New Jersey--that he doesn't make it too narrowly about Jews and Nazis, repeatedly pointing out that 5 millions non-Jews also perished in the Holocaust.

Especially as nothing happens onstage other than Dugan speaking in character, I found Wiesenthal to be quite well-paced, with the conceit of Simon talking to visitors to his Austrian office, on his final day of work in 2003--two years before he died at 96--broken up nicely by various mannerisms and the occasional phone call.

Though there are many ways you can learn about Simon Wiesenthal, the horrors he endured, the Nazi officers he pursued & captured, his family, film depictions, etc., I'll respect Wiesenthal as a fine work of theater by not revealing much more in this review.

Although the current run at Skokie's North Shore Center is ending today, you can track future productions on the WiesenthaltheShow website, and per the intriguing post-show discussion Dugan conducted, he often performs the play for high school and college students.

Certainly, the story of Simon Wiesenthal is about much more than his life and quite literal pursuits, and in the play Dugan artfully addresses the issue of some modern audiences being dubious about the heinously grim realities of the Holocaust, as well as young viewers potentially unable to grasp the depths of mankind's depravity.

In the name of lessons moving forward, the kindly Mr. Wiesenthal notes that he didn't consider all Germans, soldiers or even SS personnel to be bad, and had encountered some Jews who definitely were.

In a Program Note, repeated in the post-show discussion, Tom Dugan shared that he was inspired to Wiesenthal by his own father, a quiet blue collar man who rarely discussed having been a decorated war hero who had helped liberate the Langenstein concentration camp.

Dugan writes:

"I said 'Boy, Dad, you must really hate Germans.' His answered surprised me. 'Nope, there are all types of people, good and bad. I don't judge them by what group they belong to. I judge them by how they behave.' 

It was that rejection of collective guilt that first drew me to Wiesenthal's story."

And though learning about Simon Wiesenthal, the Holocaust, Nazis, Adolf Eichmann, etc., etc., should make many want to see Wiesenthal for the education it provides, Dugan's adroit, balanced writing and acting are what make it a theatrical treat.

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