The desperate fight to survive is what powers Gail Louw’s Blonde Poison along the dramatic rails. Louw, a British playwright who lost her grandparents in the Holocaust, won prizes when her play premiered two years ago in the U.K. Now Theater 40 has mounted the U.S. premiere of her solo drama about a German-Jewish woman, Stella Goldschlag (1922-1994), who survived the Holocaust by becoming a Greifer, an informant for the Gestapo.
Goldschlag, who is portrayed by the invaluable actress Salome Jens, was recruited by the Gestapo because she had the blonde hair and blues eyes of an Aryan; behind this mask she circulated freely in Berlin, sniffing out hidden Jews and betraying them to her Nazi masters. It is estimated that she helped send between 600 and 3000 Jews to their deaths. Blonde Poison is set in a Berlin suburb, circa 1991, where the aged Stella prowls round her flat like a feral cat, ostensibly preparing to be interviewed by a young journalist, but mostly reliving her tragic life, offering up arguments in defense of her behavior during the war. She had her reasons for doing what she did, of course: the Gestapo was holding her parents prisoner and was threatening to kill them–-and her, as well–-if she failed to do their bidding. As for the Jewish victims, they eventually would have been discovered and killed anyway, she insists.
Her rationalizations don’t stop there. She was granted all kinds of privileges by the Nazis: was paid well, lived a comfortable, cosseted life, enjoying good food and wine, a passionate love affair with a German officer. She had power, position, was “a queen, a boss.” So why should society have judged her so harshly, when most people, if they were honest, would have done exactly what she did?
The morality of Stella’s actions is explored in depth by the playwright, who also reminds us of the price Stella paid after the war: hair chopped off in public; sentenced by a Soviet war-crimes court to ten years in a labor camp. “I, too, was a victim of fascism!” she howls. And not long after that, comes the biggest blow of all: being denounced and disowned (in a letter) by her beloved grand-daughter.
Blonde Poison is a brave little play, one which doesn’t shy away from reminding us that Stella Goldschlag may have done evil but was still, when all is said and done, a human being. Equally brave is Salome Jens’s performance in the role: she takes on this unsympathetic character and makes us listen to her, care about her, even as we sit there disliking her.