When local actor Harlan Tuckman was in his 40s, a friend said of him, “I never knew of an old Jew that Harlan hasn’t played.” At the time, he’d already portrayed Tevye, Fagin, Nat in I’m Not Rappaport, the father in A Shayna Maidel, and many others.
Now Tuckman, who lives in Monroe Township, is preparing a new role, and this time the character is a real-life hero, not a fictitious one. On two Sundays, Nov. 6 and 13, Tuckman will present readings of the 2014 play WIESENTHAL by Tom Dugan, by special arrangement with Daryl Roth Theatrical Licensing. The event will take place at the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County in Freehold.
The play depicts Auschwitz survivor Simon Wiesenthal, the famed Nazi hunter who helped track down more than 1,000 Nazi war criminals prior to his death in 2005 at the age of 96. Franz Stangl, former commandant of the Treblinka death camp and the officer who arrested Anne Frank were among those he pursued.
“This undertaking, which is being cosponsored by the Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ, is part of the museum’s mission to promote public awareness of Jewish history,” said Vic Schioppo, the museum’s program cochair. “It is intended not only to give the local Jewish community an exposure to Wiesenthal’s life but to provide a view of Jewish suffering under Nazi occupation of Europe during World War II.”
Wiesenthal’s persistence, hard work, and humor are all thoroughly conveyed throughout the 90-minute running time.
The Holocaust and its aftermath are not new ground for Tuckman. In recent years, he has been seen in numerous productions as Rafael Schachter, another true-life character, who was a Czechoslovak composer, pianist, conductor, and an organizer of Jewish cultural life in the Theresienstadt concentration camp near Prague.
Before committing to the role of Wiesenthal, Tuckman said, he knew very little about the man.
“I saw an excerpt of the play on YouTube starring the playwright Tom Dugan, who, to my knowledge, is the only person to have performed the part,” he said. “Having read it now, I like the play very much. I admire Wiesenthal for his strength and persistence in pursuing his goals.” Tuckman said he also appreciates how Wiesenthal’s total concentration on his mission led him to force sacrifices on his family.
The plot deals with Wiesenthal’s search for Alois Brunner, Adolf Eichmann’s chief henchman and one of the highest-ranking Nazi officials to survive into the 21st century.
During the play, the audience follows Wiesenthal as he gathers evidence to track down Brunner.
Discussing the play in a 2014 interview, Dugan said that each time the phone rings audience members hope Wiesenthal is getting closer to locating his prey.
“It’s quite exciting the way Wiesenthal tricks people on the phone to get information,” he said. “And he is an entertaining individual with a great sense of humor, so the audience spends half the time laughing.”
Dugan — who is not Jewish, but whose wife’s family were victims of the Shoa, and whose father, as a GI, helped liberate prisoners from Buchenwald — described the work as a “spy thriller” rather than a “message” play. Tuckman said he won’t copy Dugan’s interpretation, but plans to find his own path to unlock the character.
“Since I will be ‘reading’ from a script, some personal characteristics, such as his walk, physical expressions, and so on will be limited. But whenever I’m on stage, I try to forget everything I’ve seen from another actor’s performance and do my own thing.”