Irit Felsen’s reflections after seeing Tom Dugan’s one-man play “Wiesenthal”

I just returned with my family from a memorable evening at the play “Wiesenthal”, written and acted by Tom Dugan. It was one of these rare occasions when you feel that you are truly the better, as a person, for having had the opportunity to have had a certain life experience. That if you had not seen it, you would have missed something important, a life lesson, a transformative story to remember, much more than just another play.

The extraordinary life of Simon Wiesenthal comes to life with the extraordinary performance of Tom Dugan, a much younger, slim, Irish Catholic man who transforms himself into the heavier, bald, 90-something year old Holocaust survivor with a heavy mix of Austro-Hungarian accent. Dugan succeeds in becoming Wiesenthal, a man with a compelling presence. He captures both the haunted quality of Wiesenthal’s persistent post-traumatic preoccupation with WWII, as well as his overflowing warmth, his strength, his humor, and his profound and ethical humanity.

In the short paragraph that Tom Dugan provided in the play bill he tells about his father, the silent Irish Catholic construction supervisor, awarded the Bronze Battle Star and Purple Heart for his service in WWII, who did not speak much about his wartime experiences. Dugan’s father participated in the liberation of Langenstein Concentration camp in Germany. Dugan recalls that his father had shrapnel embedded in his body, and that as a child, when he felt it, he had asked, “father, you must really hate Germans” to which his father replied, “Nope. There are all types of people, good and bad. I don’t judge them by what group they belong to. I judge them by how they behave”. This rejection of collective guilt, says Dugan, is what first drew him to the story of Wiesenthal.

My own Holocaust survivor father was born one hundred years ago today, to the day. I, too, remember asking the same question about hate, and I remember him answering in a very similar way, profoundly shaping the way I encounter people in my life. As individuals, as their actions define them, not as they are defined by other lables. Not only is Wiesenthal’s story inspiring. It is inspiring, too, that this silent Irish American young men who had gone through the horrors of WWII did not hate. It is inspiring that his son created this remarkable living, breathing life-lesson about trauma, courage and the critical role of justice in re-instating our humanity after such terrible events. It is a privilege to go see the man, Dugan, and his portrayal of the man, Wiesenthal.

More information about the play can be found at http://www.wiesenthaltheplay.com/.

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