Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Dugan sets the play in 2003 on the day of Wiesenthal's retirement. The audience plays the role of one last group of individuals Wiesenthal invites into his office in Vienna to hear him talk about his life experiences before the contents of the office are packed up and shipped off to be displayed at Los Angeles' The Simon Wiesenthal Center. Through a series of flashbacks, Dugan becomes numerous other people in Wiesenthal's past. From the well-crafted script, we get a clear understanding from the stories he tells of how Wiesenthal dedicated his entire life to hunting down the perpetrators and ensuring the events of the Holocaust and the people who perished in the concentration camps aren't forgotten.
Dugan weaves a lot of information into the 90-minute play to depict Wiesenthal's passion and the dedication he had to his life's work. Under Jenny Sullivan's sturdy direction, Dugan's exceptional performance affords us the opportunity to also see how charismatic, playful and humorous the man was. With shifts of light and sound effects, we are transported to various times and places in Wiesenthal's past. Dugan uses a range of accents to clearly portray Wiesenthal and the many people in his life, including a few of the demons Wiesenthal helped bring to justice. He manages to humanize these individuals, even though they were responsible for the deaths of many individuals in the camps. In doing so, he allows us to see how, even though what they did was "beyond your power of imagination," their "blind obedience to authority" and their allegiance to the charismatic Hitler was behind their actions. He also, ultimately, shows that we all have the capacity for evil, especially if we are following the orders of a powerful leader. Yet, through it all, we are always aware that Wiesenthal sought justice and not vengeance and that there were many Nazis whose consciences stopped them from doing horrible things by not following through on Hitler's and their other leader's directives.
A question and answer session followed the performance that proved to be incredibly informative, not just in providing more information into Wiesenthal's past but also to show how extraordinary Dugan's transformation is to become the much older Wiesenthal. When he first took the stage for this segment, a few minutes after the performance ended, I didn't even know it was the same man I'd just seen play Wiesenthal. In answering questions from the audience, Dugan mentioned that he was inspired to write the play after hearing his father, who was a World War II veteran, speak of helping to liberate one of the camps. He also answered the question of how, since all of the events in the play happened before the birth of the internet, Wiesenthal was able to find all of these individuals. He relied only on letter writing, phone calls, and personal visits to obtain all of the evidence to bring these men to justice.
Wiesenthal is a powerful, poignant and heartbreaking play that provides an insightful look into this famous man and also serves as a warning for current and future generations that what happened seventy years ago could easily happen again. It also has a powerful message about tolerance and the need to continue telling the stories of the past to ensure they and the people who were victims of intolerance aren't forgotten. It is a painful play but is also uplifting and full of hope.
Wiesenthal was presented at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday, March 14, 2019. Information for future performance dates of this play can be found at www.wiesenthaltheshow.com. Information for upcoming concerts at the SCPA can be found at www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org.
Written and performed by Tom Dugan