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Wiesenthal’ succeeds in bringing a Holocaust survivor to the stage

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Witness to history: Tom Dugan’s powerful Wiesenthal enthralled at the Smith Center.
Jacob Coakley

Four and a half stars

Wiesenthal November 10, Smith Center’s Troesh Studio Theater.

This past weekend was the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, and the Jewish Repertory Theatre of Nevada commemorated the date by bringing the play Wiesenthal to the Smith Center. Written by and starring Tom Dugan, it tells the story of Simon Wiesenthal, a concentration camp survivor and human rights activist who dedicated his life after World War II to bringing Nazi war criminals to justice. This is a big topic, and Wiesenthal succeeded amazingly, grounded in small moments of humanity, sorrow and triumph.

The conceit of the play is that Wiesenthal has agreed to one last audience with a tour group in his Vienna office. This fiction made direct address possible, allowing Dugan to engage with the audience as a gruff yet charming zaide, leavening the serious tone with jokes. The superb staging moved gracefully between lighthearted banter with the audience and moments of great emotional weight. As Wiesenthal explained how Hitler came to power on the strength of his immense charisma, a reenactment of parents raising their children for his blessing subtly transformed into a raised Nazi salute—a chilling reminder of just how effective physicality and movement can be in storytelling.

Later, when Wiesenthal related his part in bringing Adolf Eichmann, one of the Holocaust’s prime organizers, to trial in Israel, the staging moved simply from Wiesenthal with a photo of Eichmann to Wiesenthal and the photo occupying different sides of the stage—in two pools of light—as Wiesenthal condemns Eichmann’s “simply following orders” defense. Again and again the evocative staging combined with Dugan’s expert acting for intense moments and emotions.

The simplicity of the story was more apparent at times, with certain structural devices a little too bare, but the final moments of the show worked to humanize the horrific statistics of the Holocaust, and impressed with a deeply felt call for remembrance and prevention.

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