Simon Wiesenthal died in 2005, at age 96. But his legacy remains as relevant as ever.
Wiesenthal, a Jew born in the Ukraine, survived multiple Nazi concentration camps; in the decades after World War II, the architectural engineer remade himself as perhaps the 20th century’s most renowned tracker of war criminals.
Actor and playwright Tom Dugan tells the story in “Wiesenthal: Nazi Hunter,” his 2009 one-man show. The play, which has toured North America and runs off-Broadway, makes its Pittsburgh debut this week. Dugan added the three dates at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture after learning of the deadly shooting last year at the Tree of Life synagogue.
“It’s just important to spread the concept of tolerance, particularly in places where intolerance has been so horrendously displayed,” said Dugan last week by phone from Boca Raton, Fla., where he was preparing for a performance of “Wiesenthal” that night.
The play is set in 2003, in the offices of Wiesenthal’s Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna, Austria. Addressing the audience as though it were a group of visiting American students, the nonagenarian recounts his days in the camps and the decades he spent tracking down nearly 1,100 Nazis, including the infamous Adolph Eichmann, who oversaw the slaughter of the Jews during the Holocaust.
Throughout the one-act, 90-minute show, Wiesenthal remains on the job, taking phone calls as he pursues another high-ranking war criminal.
Wiesenthal was a renowned raconteur; Dugan says that before the war, he’d been an amateur stand-up comedian. In the play, the Nazi hunter quips that his account of his career is “Wiesenthal’s greatest hits.”
That humor, plus Wiesenthal’s message of tolerance, leavens the grim subject matter, said Dugan.
“‘Wiesenthal' is not a drag,” he said. “It’s not a sad play, even though it covers some very sad stories. It’s uplifting.”
“Wiesenthal” was nominated for two off-Broadway awards, the Outer Critics Circle Award and the Drama Desk Award. Each performance is followed by an audience talk-back with Dugan.
“Wiesenthal” gets three performances at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Downtown, starting Tuesday. (There’s also a free student matinee.) A portion of proceeds benefit the Tree of Life Rebuilding Fund.
WESA is a media sponsor of “Wiesenthal: Nazi Hunter.”