Wiesenthal at the Acorn
Wiesenthal, the off-Broadway play written by and starring Tom Dugan, is a production that succeeds on multiple levels. It is at once an engaging history lesson, a poignant portrait of a Holocaust survivor and a cautionary tale of a man consumed with a lifelong pursuit of justice that, in its best moments, inspires profound compassion and deep reflection.
The play is based on the life of Simon Wiesenthal, the late Nazi hunter famous for his efforts in helping authorities root out over 1,000 Nazi war criminals. This one-man, 90-minute show uses the device of eliminating the fourth wall to allow the actor to interact with the audience under the guise of an “interview.“
The show takes place two years prior to Wiesenthal’s death at 96 and the action is set in his Vienna office at the Jewish Documentation Center. Theater-goers play the role of a “group” Wiesenthal is hosting on his last day at work before he retires; he often nudges the audience into playing along with his efforts to be a gracious host, exchanging greetings with the crowd and at one point, offering grapes to viewers in the front row. Dugan impressively disappears into the physical aspects of the role, channeling the hobbled gait, gravelly voice and endearingly doddering demeanor of the feisty nonagenarian.
The script also adopts a meandering pace, presumably in an attempt to authentically relate the musings of an elderly man. This approach yields mixed results that are alternately charming and tedious. There’s genuine interest in absorbing the valuable insights being shared, but the constant tangents can stretch the limits of patience, particularly when the character is on the precipice of revealing some keen bit of wisdom or life experience. It decelerates the momentum of the stories being told.
Balancing that are the clever choices in director Jenny Sullivan’s use of stagecraft, which go a long way toward adding context to the character and creating powerful storytelling transitions. Tony Award-winning scenic designer Beowulf Boritt’s set successfully conveys organized clutter from the perspective of an old man who needs things within close reach, while tasteful lighting and sound elements add dramatic tension to the action.
Wiesenthal’s themes of confusion, horror, hope, tenacity, courage, integrity and responsibility all carry considerable weight, but in just the right measures to ensure the audience doesn’t leave feeling heavy, but enlightened.
Wiesenthal is on at the Acorn Theater on Theater Row from 5th November 2014 to 22nd February, 2015, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch actor and playwright Tom Dugan speak about the show here: