nytheatre.com q&a preview by Tom Dugan
March 26, 2013
What is your job on this show?
playwright, actor, producer .
What is your show about?
With warmth, wit and surprising humor this charming man known as “The Conscience of the Holocaust” recounts the remarkable story of how, after cheating death at the hands of Hitler’s dreaded S.S, he dedicated his life to tracking down and bringing to justice the greatest mass murderers in human history.
Where were you born? Where were you raised? Where did you go to school?
I was born in New Jersey and raised in the smallest town in the whole state; Winfield Park. As an Irish Catholic people are curious as to why I write about and play Simon Wiesenthal one of the most famous Jews of the 20th century. I feel Wiesenthal's story is a perfect fit for me considering that my Dad helped to liberate the concentration camps during WWII and my wife Amy and our two boys Eli and Miles are Jewish. Tolerance plays a big part in our home and teaching about tolerance I believe was Wiesenthal’s greatest achievement.
What are some of your previous theater credits? (Be specific! Name shows, etc.)
I have been writing one man plays for about 15 years now. My first, Oscar to Oscar was about how I snuck into the Academy Awards, had my name announced over the sound system and ate Paul Newman’s dinner. My other plays are Robert E. Lee – Shades of Gray, Frederick Douglass - In The Shadow of Slavery starring Mel Johnson Jr, and The Ghosts of Mary Lincoln which will premier later this year.
Why did you want to write/direct/produce/act in/work on this show?
My dad was awarded the Bronze Battle star and Purple Heart in WWII. Of all his stories about his time in Europe the one that impressed me the most as a kid was when his unit (the 83rd infantry) liberated the Langenstein concentration camp in Germany. I was riveted by the extremes of the situation - unfathomable cruelty vs. complete kindness; enormous courage vs. revolting cowardice. Feeling the 35-year-old shrapnel under his skin I said to him “Boy Dad, you must really hate Germans.” His answer surprised me, “Nope…there are all types of people, good and bad. I don’t judge by what group somebody belongs to, I judge by how they behave.” It was that rejection of collective guilt that first drew me to Wiesenthal’s story. Simon Wiesenthal not only spent his life tracking down and bringing to justice Nazi war criminals, he also defended a few German and Austrian officers who refused to participate in “the final solution.” He not only fought for the rights of Jewish Holocaust victims, but Soviet, Polish, Gypsy, Jehovah’s Witness and homosexual victims as well. For me, Simon Wiesenthal was a true 20th Century hero.
Which “S” word best describes your show: SMOOTH, SEXY, SMART, SURPRISING?
I have been touring with Wiesenthal for four years now, and people are always surprised by the show. I had a high school student pay me the greatest compliment recently, he said "Wow, I thought this was gonna suck!" It was so honest! Of course he thought it was gonna suck- a one man show about the Holocaust? “What a drag” right? Well, what a lot of people don’t know about Simon Wiesenthal was that he was a standup comedian before the war. He understood how to keep an audience’s attention, how to deliver this tough subject matter in a way that was not only palatable but fascinating and dare I say it, entertaining.
Can theater bring about societal change? Why or why not?
Social change is what Wiesenthal is all about. Simon Wiesenthal is remembered as being a Nazi Hunter, who brought over 1,100 war criminals to justice. However his legacy as an educator to me is even more important. Over the years Wiesenthal spoke to thousands of students in his small documentation Center in Vienna (which is actually the setting for my play). Teaching them how to recognize the signs of trouble within our society and addressing them before our tragic history gets a chance to repeat itself. I do a talk back with the audience after every performance, one night a young girl in her early twenties explained that my play taught her everything she knows about the Holocaust. When I asked her why such things were never spoken of in her home growing up she explained that her great grandfather was Adolf Eichmann, The Architect of the Holocaust.