Reviewed by Ellen Becker
As France was tearing itself apart during the post-war Épuration, Sartre answered the question being posed across much of Europe; “What did you do during the war?” with a wrenching - if banal – response: “I lived.” Gail Louw’s play, Blonde Poison, attempts to answer that pertinent question for one real-life Berliner… Though Stella Goldschlag’s answers as to how she ‘lived’ during the Nazi terror are much less forgiving.
Stella (Belinda Giblin), awaits with trepidation the arrival of a respected journalist and one-time classmate, Peter, who seeks to probe her memories of the war. Anticipating his questions, she gradually delves into her tale; an assimilated, middle-class, Aryan-looking Jew, ‘forced’ to become a greifer – a Jew hunter – to protect herself and her family from deportation to the death camps. While her motivations to protect her family from deportation are certainly understandable, Stella’s festering anti-Semitism and virulent hatred for ‘Eastern’ Jews exposes a more insidious truth. But Stella doesn’t need to be put on the spot by Peter to consider her behaviour – she is a walking, talking ethical crisis… without a resolution.
Louw’s play brings Stella’s contradictions to the fore, forcing us to oscillate wildly between disgust and empathy in swift beats. At times Stella’s undulating logic can be a little repetitive, but Giblin’s implacable stage presence papers over minor flaws in Luow’s script. Director Jennifer Hagan maintains the necessary propulsions to ensure audience interest in a one-actor play, though it must be noted – the audience will believe in a lapsed five or ten minute interval, without the distracting sound effects imposed on the scene.
Stella vehemently claims throughout the play, ‘I am a victim of Nazism!’ A claim quite hard to refute – she was indeed a victim of both Nazism and the post-war purge, one fate that she had no hand in that forced the next one into being. The break between victim and perpetrator is an uneasy one. One path led her to certain death with six million more, the other to compromise the fate of others to save her own skin – where two fates collide hinges solely on her choice; victim, or perpetrator. Neither fate bode well. While we can comfortably condemn her actions, Luow’s play brings out the more tenuous questions raised by Stella’s story. After all, as Sartre noted, we don’t often ask the question in peacetime, ‘Will I hold up?’ A question purposefully posed by Luow’s play – and one impossible to answer.
Blonde Poison is showing at the Sydney Opera House until the 12th May. For tickets, visit http://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/whatson/blonde_poison.aspx