Solo Acts: Two Iconic One-Person Shows Coming to Boca
Playwright and actor Tom Dugan has truly perfected the art of the one-person show — having created five thus far — and will bring two of them to the Mizner Park Cultural Center in December: “Wiesenthal” and “Tell Him It’s Jackie.”
“Wiesenthal,” playing Dec. 3-5, is the riveting and true story of Simon Wiesenthal, known as the “Jewish James Bond,” for bringing more than 1,100 Nazi war criminals to justice.
Tom Dugan has portrayed Simon Wiesenthal, known as the “Jewish James Bond,” for 12 years.
“I’ve been performing that one for about 12 years now,” Mr. Dugan said. “What inspired that one was, my father was a decorated veteran of World War II. He helped liberate a work camp called Langenstein and I wanted to honor his legacy. Then when Wiesenthal died in 2005, I read his obituary and thought he would be a fantastic subject for a play.”
He added although the Holocaust is a dark subject, Simon Wiesenthal brought great humor to his work as an educator, orator and human rights activist. He infused that humor in speeches he gave during and after his crusade to find Nazi war criminals.
“He was a very engaging speaker,” Mr. Dugan said. “He was actually an amateur standup comedian before the war. I realized if I could capture his sense of humor and utilize his personality the way he did, I would succeed in keeping everyone’s attention. His charming personality was really a secret weapon. And it’s the secret weapon of my play. Simon’s biggest quest was to get societies throughout the world to recognize what he called ‘the human savage’ inside of themselves. We all have it. And unless we are honest enough to recognize we have that dark side inside us all, we’re going to be less likely to recognize it in others.”
Originally from New Jersey, Mr. Dugan, 59, has lived in Los Angeles for about 40 years, where he has plied his trade as an actor/playwright. He won the LA Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Solo Performance as Simon Weisenthal and starred in his one-man show “Robert E. Lee — Shades of Gray as well. In addition, he wrote and directed “Frederick Douglass — In the Shadow of Slavery” and “The Ghosts of Mary Lincoln,” both solo shows.
Mr. Dugan confessed what drew him to writing, directing and starring in his own solo shows was the desire to provide employment for himself.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d even be any good at it,” he laughed. “My goal was to make a high-quality show on a popular subject that could be easily produced.”
Kait Haire’s startling resemblance to Jackie Kennedy is overshadowed only by her passionate performance as the celebrated former First Lady, Mr. Dugan said.
His latest solo show, “Tell Him It’s Jackie,” takes place on June 5, 1968 — the date of Robert Kennedy’s assassination. Jackie Kennedy invites us inside her life as she reels from the tragedy of her brother-in-law’s shocking death: growing up, college experiences, her courtship with the dashing young future president, the births of their children, blossoming into a beloved icon, hobnobbing with the rich and famous, enduring the crushing blow of her husband’s assassination and subsequently spiraling into depression and substance abuse.
“I’m always looking for a subject that I believe is going to be a popular sell,” Mr. Dugan said. “Something that’s going to catch people’s eye when they’re looking for what show to go see. I’m always trolling our popular culture, looking for a good story. When I started researching Jackie, I saw most of the information we know about her kind of ended when she died in the 1990s. So much more has come out since then, because she was a very private woman and it was always taboo to do anything about her for fear of incurring lawsuits. I found some really fascinating things about her that I never knew and just started writing. The result is this play has become successful beyond my wildest dreams.”
Setting the play on the night of RFK’s assassination infused it with a sense of desperation Jackie hadn’t experienced since JFK’s death, he added. It also examines her relationship with Bobby Kennedy, which was a lot deeper than most people know.
“She’s contemplating suicide, because she just can’t go through that pain again,” Mr. Dugan said. “We see how she deals with the trauma of Bobby’s death. And we learn what a strong, but flawed woman she is. You know, we’re all sold the product of Jackie, which was one of a perfect human being who always made the right choices and didn’t have vulnerabilities. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Rather than tear down Jackie’s memory, I think my play builds it up. She changed how we viewed our first ladies from the traditional, old-fashioned Mamie Eisenhower mold to the updated, modern version of these women we still have today.”
He added Jackie liberated her thinking and became a very independent woman, in spite of the fact that she suffered severe bouts of depression — as well as drug and alcohol abuse.
“And her personal life was pretty racy,” Mr. Dugan said. “That not only makes for juicy theatre, it also teaches the lesson that heroes aren’t monuments that are cemented to pedestals. Heroes are people who have the same obstacles that we have, but overcome them magnificently.”
Actress Kait Haire plays Jackie to perfection, he added.
“I thought it was important to get a plausible actress who really did give the impression of being Jackie Kennedy,” he said. “I worked with Kait on Jackie’s dialect and we rehearsed via Zoom during the pandemic. She just caught fire. She’s amazing. I can’t wait to share her phenomenal performance with audiences in Boca Raton.”
Ms. Haire hails from Vero Beach, Fla., but now lives in Los Angeles. She said Mr. Dugan spotted her photo on Facebook and attended a play she was in.
“Tom thought I looked like Jackie and asked me to read the script,” she said. “I did and I liked it. We met for coffee and quite literally a day later, LA shut down due to the coronavirus. Two or three weeks after that, we started Zoom rehearsals, just Tom and me working through the script. When we were ready, Tom set up a makeshift theater in his back yard, where we started doing shows.”
Those performances led to more at a theater in Grand Rapids, Minn., she added. Another run followed in Mr. Dugan’s back yard again. Ms. Haire said playing the role was a real learning experience.
“I knew some things about Jackie before, because I went to George Washington University in D.C.,” she said. “Jackie actually went there for a little bit and we have a dorm there named after her. And my roommate, who is the costume designer for the show, has always been a big Jackie fan. So I knew some from her as well. But not as much as I know now.”
Ms. Haire said she learned so much more about Jackie’s personal life, that she — and the audience — didn’t previously know.
“I know a lot more now about her younger years, her education, her early life in New York and her parents,” she said. “I feel what I knew before was mainly what she did in D.C. for preservation of the arts and things like that.”
She added “Tell Him It’s Jackie” puts the woman in a more intimate, personal light.
“It’s easy as an outsider to consider the trauma of the president being shot,” she said. “But it’s another thing entirely to see it through the eyes of someone who loved him. And someone who also loved his brother, who suffered the same fate. The play really shows how it all hit home to her. It also examines her human, vulnerable side — far away from the stylish icon and incredible persona the world knew her as.”
Mr. Dugan hopes South Florida audiences will come away from these two shows with renewed insights into these characters, seeing something in each that they never knew before.
“I always think my plays are entertainment,” he said, “and if you’re not careful, you might learn something. We’re also hoping audiences will stick around after each performance for a talk back with us. We’ve found they really enjoy those.”
The Mizner Park Cultural Center is located at 201 Plaza Real in Boca Raton. “Wiesenthal” will play at 7:30 on Dec. 3 & 4 and at 2 p.m. on Dec. 4 & 5. Tickets are $35 for premium seats and $45 for VIP seats. “Tell Him It’s Jackie,” will play at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 16-19 and 2 p.m. on Dec. 18-19. Tickets for that show are $49. For more information on both shows or to order tickets, contact the box office at 844-672-2849 or log on to miznerparkculturalcenter.com.