Gail Louw’s US premiere Blonde Poison at Theatre 40 is a one-woman play examining true.to.life German Jew and Nazi collaborator Stella (Goldschlag) Kubler-Isaacsohn. The play opens in 1991 in an apartment in Berlin as the woman known as Blonde Poison, now in her 70s, remember her notorious past. She nervously awaits the arrival of a journalist who will interview her about her infamous betrayal of underground Jews to the Gestapo in WWII.
Quite frankly Blonde Poison has few moments of amusement; it is very heavy material made most intriguing by the actress who plays Stella. With Salome Jens in control, it becomes a blessed event, filled with dramatic highs and lows. This fascinating actress knows a thing or two about commanding attention, as she unravels in detail a complex portrait of the woman, who seemed to regret none of her horrific actions. In the late 30s, early 40s Goldschlag and her parents were condemned to be deported to the camps, but through a stroke of good luck – Stella was beautiful with blonde hair and blue eyes, not your typical Jewess – she found herself in a position to assist the enemy in their pursuit of Jews gone into hiding. Initially, of course, it was to save herself and her family, but she was still doing it well after her parents’ deportation. And…she denied her birthright, passing herself off as a Christian. The question about conscience arises and what intervenes is… how do you stop when you’ve gone that far? Throughout her morbid ‘career’ she had five husbands, many of whom were deported, and a multitude of affairs, relishing each and every sexual encounter like a gleeful, insatiable little girl. She loved to admire herself in the mirror for her ageless beauty and reveled in her dreams of being a famous singer and artiste. Jens chews up every moment of glee and relish with abandon and makes some fine dramatic arguments about survival…”what would you have done?”…as she faces the jury box, in this case the audience.
The one heartbreaking element of Goldschlag’s life is a daughter, taken from her, who as a nurse in Israel writes to her mother in 1991, condemning her for her behavior, stating that she would walk through the streets with a revolver, seeking her out, primed to assassinate her. Jens possesses an expert emotional instrument, and it is here that Stella shows some feeling for a maternal relationship that never came to fruition. Was it guilt or this ultimate rejection that caused Goldschlag to end her life, by jumping out the window of her Berlin apartment? Playwright Louw uses dramatic license and changes the suicide by having Stella blow her brains out. The audience is left to decide how remorseful she actually was. And indeed, audiences are divided.
*I found myself engrossed in Jens’ performance, but not genuinely moved by the story. For me, this woman was the devil-incarnate and deserved no sympathy. Yes, it was a question of survival, and maybe, under similar circumstances, I might have done the same. But…the fact remains that life often deals a harsh deck and… the cruelest inhumanity is never the best response. Blonde Poison is rather a downer brought to life by the mesmerizing Salome Jens. Add fine director Jules Aaron and together their work makes the piece worthwhile. Jeff G. Rack has designed a nice Berlin apartment set, but background visual projections would add a great deal to move the story forward and to put all of the historical details in proper focus.