“Wiesenthal,” at Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs, is a good play, but it’s also sad and maddening.
Good mostly because of the performance by Tom Dugan, who gracefully holds the audience in his hands during the 90-minute show with a 15-minute intermission.
Sad because the story of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal is all too familiar to us today, when the words “never again” ring hollow, as genocide has hardly ceased, a point slipped very effectively into the monologue of “Wiesenthal.”
Maddening because the play, which was also written by Dugan, slides into heavy-handiness and theatrics here and there. It is not needed. The stories that come from the man sometimes referred to as “the Jewish James Bond” are gut-punching and chilling. They need no extra emphasis (although, thankfully, Dugan occasionally warms things with folksy humor). “You will not be able to comprehend,” he says early on.
He is right.
In the production, Wiesenthal is giving a talk to a group of visitors — played by us, the audience — on his last day at the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna. Wiesenthal’s shoulders may be hunched, and his steps may shuffle a bit, but his mind is as focused as ever. “This office is my brain,” he says, looking around at the clutter of files and stacks of books.
Here is where the story suddenly jerks and jags with a belabored attempt to involve the audience in some sort of interactive, break-through-the-fourth-wall dialogue. It’s a little too cutesy, and the payoff is hardly worth it, jarring the story into something too close to a showbizzy bit. To be fair, we are snapped right back when Wiesenthal asks, “A million and a half children murdered — how do you feel that?”
Instead of thinking about the retirement party later that evening, Wiesenthal is instead obsessed with a Nazi who has escaped to South America. He would very much like to add one more to his tally of 1,100 war criminals brought to justice. So he frequently interrupts his recounting of facing Hitler’s SS, escaping a concentration camp, the murder of family and friends, and his “journey for justice” to make archly inquiring phone calls. Those moments, paired with Dugan’s suddenly evoking other characters as they take witness stands, give the narrative some nice layers and depth.
Wiesenthal was glamorized in the movies “The Boys From Brazil” and “The Odessa File,” and this version of his story glosses over the real controversies of the real man. But Dugan’s performance and Stage Door’s nailed-down production have painted nightmarish pictures in my mind I doubt I’ll ever be able to forget.
IF YOU GO:
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays; 2 p.m. matinees Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays
Where: Broward Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Road, Coral Springs
Contact: 954-344-7765 or StageDoorTheatre.com.