Simon Wiesenthal Lives Again on the New York Stage (REVIEW)
Simon Wiesenthal’s entire life was driven by one word: passion. A passion to cling to life and hope during the Holocaust, a passion to bring thousands of Nazi criminals to justice after the war, and a passion to create a world where goodness is rewarded and evil is punished.
Therefore, it is quite fitting that Tom Dugan’s performance in the one-man show “Wiesenthal” is driven entirely by passion. Dugan – who also wrote the play and is not Jewish – clearly loves Wiesenthal, and is determined to bring this hero’s story to the stage.
And for all his modesty (and his flaws), Wiesenthal truly was a hero. The horrors he endured to survive the Holocaust qualify him for that title alone. But it is what he did after the Holocaust that distinguished him not only from other survivors, but from most of the world. Wiesenthal refused to let sleeping dogs lie and allow Nazi war criminals to go unpunished (whereas America, Israel, and much of the Jewish community seemed to accept this as an unfortunate reality).
That barely any of the men who perpetrated the Holocaust were brought to justice was, in a way, worse than the Holocaust itself. Wiesenthal set himself on a one-man mission to correct this injustice, and what a job he did.
In the play, Wiesenthal tells us that we’ll be seeing his “greatest hits,” and they’re all there: the trial of Adolf Eichmann, finding the officer who arrested Anne Frank, capturing the Butcher of Vilna.
But the play is not a celebration of death; it is a celebration of life. Dugan wisely keeps much of the evening jovial and friendly. If Wiesenthal regaled us with one horror after another, we’d immediately tune out. Instead, we are delighted to spend time with this luminous presence – only to be confronted with the true evil that this man faced on a daily basis.
Dramatically, the play is structured very well – and the final moment is a haunting, luminous call to action.
Dugan, as Wiesenthal, seems to accept the argument that Adolf Eichmann was merely a functionary, and was not an anti-Semite. He quotes Eichmann saying that if Hitler had ordered him to kill all left-handed people, he would have done that instead of killing the Jews. Dugan (and therefore Wiesenthal) seems to imply this claim was truthful. In reality, it is well documented that Eichmann was an ardent anti-Semite, and whole-heartedly believed in and supported the Nazi mission to wipe Judaism from the Earth.
Later in the play, Wiesenthal relates numerous stories that show that while the Holocaust was not carried out solely against the Jews, it was carried out chiefly against them – and was part of a long tradition of anti-Semitism in Europe. Neither Eichmann – nor anyone who participates in genocide – can be let off the hook as “following orders.”
The second complaint is the ticket price. It is simply too high for a one-man show – especially a one-man show that claims the most important thing the audience can do is listen to the story and retell it. This play should be much more accessible to the public – so if you do go, please look for discounts on sites such as TKTS and Broadwaybox.com. There are $25 tickets available for students on the day of the show.
I also recommend the fabulous biography, “Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends” by Tom Segev.
Read the book. See the play. Bring your children. Wiesenthal’s story is one that must be preserved and retold.