Playwright Gail Louw’s masterpiece drama “Blonde Poison” has its American premiere at Beverly Hills Theatre 40. I was held captive for the entire ninety minutes. The story, based on the true story of Stella Goldschlag during the Holocaust, stars Salome Jens, who gives a brilliant performance under the superb direction of renowned director, Jules Aaron. Take such fine writing, exquisite acting with fine direction and you have a play that is not to be missed. This triumvirate created a masterpiece in this compelling drama.
Jeff G. Rack created a beautiful living room set in a Berlin apartment in 1991 that was warm and engaging with creamy yellow and white walls, a comfy chair grouping on the right and setee on the left with a bookcase, lovely bold, dramatic oil painting and an engaging hallway. Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski sound design added so much to the reality with train sounds, street car sound, and muffled marching footsteps. The added music by composer Max Kinberg was compelling, lovely and created another dimension. As Stella herself said, the apartment was “elegant” and one that “Mutti would be proud of”. “It’s clean, everything is in order. It is good.” And, what lurks beneath the surface, about to implode, the memories are not.
Yes, the subject matter is dark. Stella is a young and very beautiful Jewish girl who, with her blonde hair and blue eyes, looks Aryan. She prides herself on being very beautiful, her Vatti’s princess, and contrasts herself with her looks and good taste to the average Jews. She sets herself above the dark eyed, dark haired Jews with their “big hats that advertise that they are Jewish”. She is elegant, refined and has good taste. When the Gestapo invades her perfect dream world, Stella, who passed for Aryan, sells her soul to the devil. She becomes a Greifer, one who collaborates with the Gestapo and turns Jews in. While she may have initially done this to save herself and her beloved Mutti and Vatti, she reached the point of no return.
As the play opens, we see Stella in her 70s, though as she stares into her gilt mirror she envisions she could pass for 50s. She sees her blonde hair, clean white Aryan smile, and her elegance. As she enters her apartment, we can tell she is upset by the letter she is reading. It has unnerved her. And, thus her tale begins to spin as Stella takes us on the journey back through the recess of her memory to those dark days of Gestapo occupied Germany. It is her deeds during the war-torn time that keep her from sleeping.
While the subject matter is dark, Louw manages to interject humor, some laughter and even sex into the colors and shadings which lift the play above the subject matter at times. Her play gives a full pallet of colors of emotions. She never leaves us stuck in a dark place too long. That is masterful writing.
As Stella, Jens takes us back through “the looking glass” in time to when she was a gorgeous girl men chased after. Her Mutti and Vatti loved her, the boys loved her, and most obviously, Stella was enamored of herself. “Everyone I met loved me”. And, she is still incredibly vain in the present. We journey back to a young boy in the snow, Paul, who tells her of his love for her. And it is Paul, who now is a journalist, and has come to interview her.
This was a marvelous storytelling device, to have Stella recount her story to Paul. And, a damning story it is. In 1937, Stella and her family wore the yellow stars and were on a list of 52,000 to leave. But, her father did not have the foresight to leave his beloved Germany.
Stella wanted to be a singer in a jazz band and lapses into “Toot, Toot Tootsie, Good-bye”. She can no longer remember the words to “Me And My Shadow”. And, as she boldly recounts her life story, we see those dark shadows. There was such a moving scene as she looks at the photograph of her first husband, Manfried Kiebler. They were a “golden” couple with their blonde hair and blue eyes. He would never be “more than twenty.” But, there were other lovers and a total of four husbands and one child.
Stella, as her own judge and jury repeatedly asks herself, “How could you do it?” as her conscience questions. Why did she continue to be an informant after her parents were taken into Theresienstadt? Ahh, “How can you stop when you’ve gone so far?” We see the dilemma, the contradictions. After the war, Stella was convicted of war crimes and served ten years in prison. But, as Louw shows us, Stella served a lifetime sentence in her own mind.
Salome Jens gives a breathtaking and stunning performance. Her German accent was perfect, and the mannerisms that punctuated the words were beautifully done and so very real. Every “ach” rang true. As she flailed her arms dramatically, I could see the “Queen” she had been. “I was the Queen, the boss.”
The play was so well written that I could feel some sympathy for Stella despite the heinous deeds she had done. It was an amazing play with a finely wrought performance by Salome Jens well directed by Jules Aaron. The electrifying play is continuing to work on me. That is what great theatre does. You take the story home with you, and it causes you to see life a little differently.
At The Theatre with Audrey Linden
January 12, 2015