Actor/playwright Tom Dugan’s superb award winning one-man show Wiesenthal is a must-see for anyone who loves great acting, writing, drama, human rights and/or Jews, plus hates fascism, crimes against humanity, war and atrocities. For almost 90 minutes sans intermission Dugan flawlessly incarnates Simon Wiesenthal, the greatest postwar Nazi hunter, who as a private entity tirelessly helped track down up to 1,100 Hitlerian war criminals and torturers from his cramped office in Vienna.
For almost 90 minutes Dugan flawlessly incarnates Simon Wiesenthal, the greatest postwar Nazi hunter, who as a private entity tirelessly helped track down up to 1,100 Hitlerian war criminals and torturers from his cramped office in Vienna.
Dugan’s mesmerizing saga is set there, although as the title character he spins tales that transport us throughout Europe’s concentration camp archipelago (which Simon describes as “when barbarism met technology”) to Buenos Aires where the Final Solution’s über-bureaucrat, Adolf Eichmann, was hiding out and back to Austria, where Anne Frank’s captor lived in plain sight. Indeed, Wiesenthal’s peregrinations take us through the heart of darkness that, he fears, is harbored somewhere deep within the inner labyrinths of all men.
Onstage Wiesenthal explains the historical circumstances that can allow these “savage” fascistic impulses to emerge, ravage and rampage. But, the Holocaust survivor counsels, the single factor that most leads to the totalitarian mindset is “blind obedience to authority” or, as the war criminals put it during the Nuremberg trials, the impulse to be “just following orders.”
His heroes include those Germans who dared to disobey. Wiesenthal is wise enough to realize that barbaric behavior is not ethnically or genetically based or predetermined (in fact, such a notion would fit into the National Socialists’ racially motivated eugenics scheme of things). As the aging scourge of the SS and stormtroopers puts it as he prepares to retire: “A murderer is a murderer – Nazi, Jew or Eskimo.” The relentless Nazi hunter also insisted that he “wanted justice, not revenge.” Wiesenthal also maintained that we should not speak solely of “the 6 million” – that is, Jews – earmarked for extermination by the jackbooted thugs, but of the up to 11 million total who were liquidated in the 23,000 death camps.
One can’t help but wonder where that righteous human rights champion Simon Wiesenthal – who died in 2005 – would stand today on the Israel/Palestine issue? In particular, what would he say and do regarding the recent mass killings of largely unarmed Arabs at the Gaza Strip, mowed down by sniper fire, teargassed by drones, etc., for peacefully protesting near the border to land which the Palestinians, like the Israelis, claim as ancestrally belonging to them? Would Wiesenthal’s loyalties be to his “tribe” (Simon was a Ukraine-born Jew from Buchach, formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian empire) or to the cause of human rights, fairness and “justice”? Inquiring minds would like to know…
Throughout the one-man show written by Dugan and expertly directed by Jenny Sullivan, Wiesenthal remains personable, good-natured, devoted, sometimes exasperated, anguished and angry – but at all times completely human and humane. A fine set and sound effects enhance the onstage ambiance and action which – although it consists mainly of the reminiscences of a 90-something old man – is completely captivating, thanks to virtuoso acting and a riveting story that takes us through hell and beyond.
This revival of Wiesenthal at Theatre 40, where it premiered back in 2011, is this playhouse’s best work since The Consul, The Tramp, and America’s Sweetheart, which, interestingly, also had an antifascist theme. Of course, that drama which opened at Theatre 40 shortly after the disastrous 2016 election could today be re-titled The Con Artist, The Trump, and America’s Porn Star.
Simon Wiesenthal IncarnateL.A. plays are increasingly dealing with the topic of authoritarianism. On May 12, Buzzworks’ production of Sex opened with a radio report about that Broadway play being censored and its star and playwright Mae West’s imprisonment (which all really happened in the 1920s). On May 19 The Actors’ Gang’s Angels, Devils and Other Things premiered, opening with a dramatization of The Futurist Manifesto by the pro-Mussolini Italian fascist poet Filippo Marinetti. On June 2, Willard Manus’ Their Finest Hour: Churchill and Murrow – an anti-Nazi drama about Prime Minister Winston Churchill and America’s greatest broadcast journalist, Edward R. Murrow (who I was named after), opens at Write Act Repertory @ the Brickhouse Theatre.
In 2017, Pacific Resident Theatre presented Ionesco’s Rhinoceros and Rogue Machine mounted another anti-Nazi play called Daytona, although the frequency of these antifascist plays seems to be increasing in 2018 under the Trump regime. Why?
Recently there’s been more and more talk about “dictatorship and “totalitarianism” in America’s public discourse from conventional journalists and politicians. On the far Left, groups like Refuse Fascism even use the “F” word, like Bill Maher has on his HBO Real Time show. It seems L.A.’s theater is among those raising the alarm, trying to warn Americans, as Trump transgresses against constitutional, democratic norms. The president who refuses to release his tax returns and the White House visitor logs, tries to block Twitter and bans CNN and AP from covering an event with embattled EPA chief Scott Pruitt, opportunistically demands “transparency” re: an alleged FBI confidential informant “spying” on his campaign. But Trump is a transparent tyrannical wannabe – we can see he’s the emperor who has no clothes.
Entertaining, enlightening plays like Wiesenthal are essential reminders and cautionary tales about fascism. During its limited run theatergoers need to hunt down tickets to see this stellar one-man show about the world’s greatest Nazi hunter. That is, while we still have the First Amendment and are allowed to view them.
Wiesenthal is being performed Tuesdays May 29, June 5 and 12, Wednesdays May 30, June 6 and 13 and Mondays June 4 and 11 at 7:00 p.m., in Theatre 40 in the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. This is on the campus of Beverly Hills High School; there is free parking in a garage near the theatre. Winnie-the-Pooh creator A.A. Milne’s romance/comedy Mr. Pim Passes By and Lost and Found are also playing at alternate times at Theatre 40. For info: (310)364-3606; www.theatre40.org.