Say “James Bond,” and you wouldn’t think “Simon Wiesenthal.” And vice versa. Actually, You may not even know who Simon Wiesenthal is.
Well, unlike 007, Wiesenthal was a real person, and he’s the subject of the latest from Illusion Theater. (And, no, he says he doesn’t like martinis.)
Wiesenthal is a one-man show about Simon Wiesenthal who is nicknamed the “Jewish James Bond.” Wiesenthal (1908-2005), a Holocaust survivor, helped bring 1,100 Nazis to justice for war crimes after WWII. Yes, you read that correctly: 1,100.
The show takes place on the day of Wiesenthal’s retirement. He has allowed a group of visitors—the audience—to his office. While he shuffles around (opening old files, making phone calls, writing reminder notes to pick up milk for his wife) collecting his things, he tells some of his stories of the people he lost, the people he caught, and his quest for justice. Above all, he works to remember the millions who died.
Wiesenthal warns you in the beginning that he will tell you things you cannot even begin to comprehend. Truer words could not be spoken. He recounts the thousands of deaths just one SS agent was responsible for, a father who testified his son was shot in the head before his eyes…so many impossible things. But they’re true. Which is why Wiesenthal’s story is so important.
Tom Dugan plays Wiesenthal and everything, from the makeup which ages him to the tremor in his hands to the way he engages the audience, comes together perfectly. But Dugan doesn’t just star in the show, he wrote it as well. He spent two years researching and one writing, drawn to the story of this particular man after reading of Wiesenthal’s rejection of collective guilt—a belief similarly held by Dugan’s father, a WWII vet, who told his young son that he didn’t hate all Germans and judged people by not by their group but by their actions.
Aiding Dugan’s portrayal of Wiesenthal and the power of the story is the set. The smallest details are there to pull audiences into Wiesenthal’s world. I particularly loved that the accordion folders were taped, as if they needed to be held together after years of use, and the map hanging on the wall is a copy of what really hung in Wiesenthal’s office.
Wiesenthal is a bit more than a play or a history lesson. It’s a message, the same that Simon Wiesenthal had: Don’t forget. A life dedicated to hunting Nazis was not easy, but Wiesenthal knew that if he did not continue his work, if the public was allowed to forget, the same thing could happen again. As the numbers of WWII veterans and Holocaust survivors dwindles, it’s important to keep the story alive for the next generation and the next.
Simon Wiesenthal’s lived the life he did so that he could say to all Jews and other “inferior” people, “I remembered you.” The show Wiesenthal is a testament to that.
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Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission