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In one-man play, Dugan becomes famed Nazi hunter.

Byline: Melissa Heckscher, Staff Writer

Simon Wiesenthal, the "Nazi hunter" who tracked down more than 1,100 war criminals after World War II, died in 2005, but audiences may feel like they've met the man after seeing Tom Dugan's one-man play.

With an authenticity approved by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, Dugan portrays the Austrian-born Jew toward the end of his life in "Nazi Hunter - Simon Wiesenthal," on stage Sunday at the Armstrong Theatre in Torrance.

The play, written and performed by Dugan, is a historical account of Wiesenthal's storied life: namely, his mission to hunt down and prosecute Nazi war criminals after his own four-year stay in German concentration camps.

"The subject matter is sad, exciting and suspenseful," says Dugan, a Woodland Hills-based actor who has appeared in numerous films and television shows, including "Bones" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." "I mean, he's chasing these evil men around who are not dumb, and he's in a lot of danger when he's doing it."

With the help of the governments of Israel, Austria, German and other nations, Wiesenthal tracked down Nazi criminals including Adolf Eichmann, the "architect of the Holocaust," who organized the deportation of 3 million Jews to extermination camps; Franz Murer, "The Butcher of Wilno"; and Karl Silberbauer, the Gestapo officer who arrested Anne Frank.

In total, more than 6 million Jews and millions of Gypsies, Poles and other so-called inferior people were slaughtered during the Holocaust. Many of the officers involved in these murders escaped to other countries after the war and most were never found.

"If you're going to do an historical one-man show, you pick someone who is absolutely fascinating," says Dugan, who previously portrayed abolitionist Frederick Douglass and Confederate General Robert E. Lee in one-man shows. "So far, that's what I've been doing."

For Dugan, who is not Jewish (though his wife and children are), playing the role of the elderly Wiesenthal was a challenge

"I'm 47 and I'm playing 85, so it's a fun transition to do," says Dugan, who hobbles onto the stage with a bald head (he shaved it for the role), a 40-pound fat suit and a face full of old-age makeup. "I walk differently, talk differently. I am an 85-year-old man standing there telling his life story. It's acting from beginning to end."

The play is set in Wiesenthal's office on the day before he retires. The audience acts as the last group of students that have come to hear him speak.

What makes the two-hour play interesting, Dugan says, is that the performance isn't just a collection of essays being read out loud; it's a full-on story with a beginning, middle and end.

"With a one-man show, you have to make sure (the audience) is in the here and now, because if you hear the same voice, no matter how pretty it may be, it gets monotonous."

"You don't want to lecture, but you weave in enough information so the audience can follow the story," he adds. "Above all, it has to be entertaining."

But while the tragedy of the Holocaust is the impetus that drove Wiesenthal's journey, Dugan's play doesn't focus only on the atrocities.

"The only way I was able to write this play was because Simon Wiesenthal, himself, had such a great sense of humor," he said. "It's because of that sense of humor that the audience stays with me."

Dugan tested the play in workshop performances and said audiences were anything but depressed after seeing the show, despite the sometimes-somber subject matter.

"People said after they saw it, instead of going home and pulling the covers over their heads, they wanted to go do something in the world. They were energized, inspired."

Melissa Heckscher

(310) 543-6630

melissa.heckscher@dailybreeze.com

NAZI HUNTER - SIMON WIESENTHAL

>When: 7 p.m. Sunday.

>Where: Armstrong Theatre, Torrance Cultural Arts Center, 3330 Civic Center Drive.

>Tickets: $35.

>Information: (310) 781-7171, www.torrancearts.org.

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Photo:

Actor Tom Dugan, 47, needs heavy makeup and a fat suit to "become" 85-year-old Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal in his one-man show about the famed figure. The play opens Sunday at the Armstrong Theatre in the Torrance Cultural Arts Center.

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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 21, 2009
Words:701
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