LA Theater Review: NAZI HUNTER – SIMON WIESENTHAL (Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills)

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by Tony Frankel on August 7, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles


Writer/performer Tom Dugan’s solo show Nazi Hunter – Simon Wiesenthal capitalizes on the strengths of the famous Nazi hunter – his resilience, tenacity and humor – but largely overlooks his checkered results and disputed claims that he flushed out nearly 1,100 war criminals. Dugan has crafted a show in which the retiring Wiesenthal addresses us (American students) as he packs up memorabilia and memoranda in his Vienna office – items that will be shipped to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. When Holocaust survivor Wiesenthal is on the phone trying to track down a war criminal in India, the combination of Dugan’s transcendent performance and the compelling material creates pure theatrical magic that transports us into the soul of the Nazi atrocities and one man’s quest to right humanity’s wrongs. When the fourth wall is broken and Wiesenthal relates to us his wife’s shopping needs, the play takes on a folksy, sentimental quality that may humanize the subject, but drains the drama which would have otherwise heightened our catharsis.

Nazi Hunter Simon Wiesenthal - Theatre 40 in Beverly HillsThis has always been a danger with one-person shows when your audience becomes a character – whether a group of journalists or students: it may be thrilling that we are actually in the room of Ann Landers or Theodore Roosevelt or FDR, but it robs us of the privilege to eavesdrop on famous people, warts and all. We are curious what Wiesenthal would be like if a group of adoring students were not present. It just struck me as odd that a kindly old man such as this could be embroiled in so many controversies, like his staunch defense of Karl Waldheim, when there purportedly was evidence that the Austrian Chancellor had been complicit in war crimes.

Nonetheless, under the assured direction of Jenny Sullivan (and amazing uncredited make-up design), Dugan manages to evoke our pathos, ensuring that we come away with a sense of Wiesenthal’s ultimate true mission, which may have been less about capturing criminals and more about memorializing and honoring the eleven million noncombatants murdered by the Nazis.

photos by Ed Krieger

Nazi Hunter – Simon Wiesenthal
Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills
ends on August 24, 2011
for tickets, visit Theatre 40 or call 310-364-3606

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