Saturday, August 1, 2015

Blonde Poison

Photo by Marnya Rothe
Producer Adam Liberman in association with Red Line Productions present, BLONDE POISON, by Gail Louw, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St. Wolloomooloo,  28 July - 15 August.

BLONDE POISON, is a one woman monologue/play, by Gail Louw, based on a book: ONE WOMAN'S TRUE TALE OF EVIL, BETRAYAL, AND SURVIVAL IN HITLER'S BERLIN, by journalist, Peter Wyden (1992).

Stella Goldschag was an exceptionally beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed Jewish girl growing up in Berlin during the rise of Hitler's Nazi party. Stella passed as an Ayran because of her looks and had forged identity papers, prepared by a famous forger of such documents, Guenther Rogoff. Inevitably, as the goal of a Jew-free Berlin in the 1940's was pursued by the Nazi Party, she and her family were arrested. Stella was savagely beaten and tortured by the Nazi's in attempt to find Rogoff, but she was unable to assist. Eventually, her torturers offered her the safety of her parents and her own life if she became a 'greifer' - a 'catcher' - a catcher of Jews, known as 'U-boats', living in the city. She agreed. However, even when the Nazi's betrayed her and sent her parents to Theresienstadt, Stella continued her role as a catcher, and to live comfortably in a small apartment with her own papers and a revolver. It is estimated that she betrayed 600 - 3,000 people - the Germans called her Blonde Poison or the Blonde Ghost. A daughter from one of her many sexual liaisons was taken from her at four months. Captured by the Russians at the end of the war she was put on trial and condemned to 10 years hard labour in various camps. On her return to Germany, she was again condemned to 10 years imprisonment, which was commuted. Stella searched for her daughter but on finding her was rejected and repudiated for her history. What guilt did Stella carry? What was her suffering as a survivor and how did she manage it? Did she?

The play is set in a seedy West Berlin apartment, when Stella is in her early seventies and is awaiting an ex-schoolfriend, ex-admirer, now journalist to interview her (Peter Wyden, the author of the book?) Told, almost, directly  to us we gather the facts of her life and we hear of her own anti-semitism, her musical ambitions and the family's inability to secure exit visas out of Germany, her sexual confidence and promiscuities, and of her ultimate aberrant thrill at her role as a 'catcher' and her inability to withdraw from the tasks which she had taken up (I heard from MACBETH: "I am stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o'er"). We the audience are shown the fine line between the altruism of her attempts to save her parents and then the difficult facts of her own self-interest for survival that followed their death. Most pertinently we are made to think deeply about the moral dilemma when one asks oneself: "What would I do to save my loved ones, my parents? To save myself?" - a question that a program such as the SBS series GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM asks us to contemplate today, perhaps.

BLONDE POISON, is Directed with grace and an elegance of detail by Jennifer Hagan. The Lighting, by Matthew Tunchon, is both atmospheric and narrative driven, giving support to the unravelling drama of the complex moral crises, and is well assisted by a restrained but accurately redolent Sound Design by Jeremy Silver. The Set Design, by Derrick Cox, for me, was over decorated/stuffed with unwarranted details and was/became a slight distraction - if I may say so, the distressed back wall and the essential practical props would have been more than enough.

Belinda Giblin, gives an astonishing concentrated, impeccable, 90 minute tour de force, as Stella Goldschag. With an accomplished Berlin-Jewish dialect, accompanied by a disciplined physical control and a compelling, startling beauty, that transfixes one, enthrals and attracts one, so that it seems, much like the original woman was said to be capable of (based on photographs, I have seen of her), one is seduced from outright condemnation of the choices that her character makes. Sex is a powerful, allure, poison for some of us. Ms Giblin embodies an observation made of the real Stella Goldschag, "That there were many Eves but she was the serpent." Beware.

One was absorbed and drawn by the fascinating moral quandaries presented by this performance by Ms Giblin, and the adaptation, by Gail Louw with her, slightly overwritten play, BLONDE POISON. 

Do see for yourself. 

 Red Line and The Old Fitz have made a switch of tone from the many recent high octane (male) works they have presented, and it is the content that this work offers that is worth embracing and contemplating. The work of these two artists, Ms Hagan and Ms Giblin is astonishingly considered and accomplished, whilst dealing with Ms Louw's provocative writing - a feminine perspective of history and its attendant moral dilemmas. As relevant, sadly, now as it was then.

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