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Theater review: 'Nazi Hunter -- Simon Wiesenthal' at Theatre 40

May 26, 2011 |  7:00 pm

Tomdugan A phone book can bring down a fascist in the hands of the right detective. The dogged pursuit of justice drives “Nazi Hunter -– Simon Wiesenthal,” the compelling one-man show written and performed by Tom Dugan, now at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills. Austro-Hungarian Wiesenthal, who tracked down 1,100 war criminals in his 60-year career, was often called the Jewish James Bond. But according to Dugan’s portrait, he was really more of a Columbo, using his targets’ mistakes and arrogance to ensnare them.

Dugan and director Jenny Sullivan structure this accessible history lesson with contrasting narratives: the sweep of Wiesenthal’s life as a victim and then a hunter of Nazis; and his last day running Vienna’s Jewish Documentation Center, where he struggles to bring one more fugitive war criminal a step closer to extradition. (The specific details of Wiesenthal’s tradecraft are among the show’s best moments, like the Nazi directory that led to the man who arrested Anne Frank and family.)

Along with breathless episodes in Argentina, the Warsaw Ghetto and an Israeli courtroom awaiting Adolf Eichmann’s trial, Dugan occasionally takes us to the Catskills for some folksy audience participation. Still, the writer-performer keeps it reasonably unsentimental as he recounts the horrors and triumphs of an astonishing life. Recent research has uncovered inconsistencies in Wiesenthal’s autobiography, and Dugan doesn’t shy away from his subject’s flaws, or his ego. But there are righteous stories told here that you will not forget. That is the show’s achievement.  

--Charlotte Stoudt

“Nazi Hunter — Simon Wiesenthal,” Theatre 40 at the Ruben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. 7:30 p.m. Sundays through Tuesdays. Ends June 21. No performance May 30 and June 5. $25.  (310) 364-3606, Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Photo: Tom Dugan as Simon Wiesenthal. Credit: Ed Krieger