Blonde Poison: Elizabeth Hawthorne's greatest performance

Blonde Poison by Gail Louw
Plumb Production
Herald Theatre, Auckland
Until September 2

Gail Louw ‘s Blonde Poison tells the extraordinary story of Stella Goldschlag, a Jewish woman who managed to escape certain death during WWII. The play follows her from her early years under the Third Reich where she was a “U Boat” existing just below the surface.

However, she was eventually caught by the Nazis, tortured and destined for Auschwitz. But she saved herself and her parents (for a time) by becoming a collaborator and outing thousands of Jews, including her friends.

After the war, she was tried by the Soviets and spent years in prison before being released to find her daughter rejected her and she had become something of an outcast.

Gail Louw has written a play about the ambivalent heart of Germany and the worm of anti-Semitism which burrowed into the culture and how one individual responded to the horrors of the times.

The red banner at the rear of the stage looks as though it should be bearing a swastika. Instead it features a mirror which reflects members of the audience.

It also provides a means of reflection for Stella Goldschlag, allowing her to view her present appearance as well as reflect on her past. She reflects on her appearance a lot because she knows she is different, certainly different from those uncultured Jews from the East and those orthodox Jewish women who wear wigs. She knows she is an Aryan, a Jewish Aryan, attractive, sexy and blonde-headed, superior to other Jews and other Germans.

The play is set in the mid-1990s in Goldschlag’s apartment where she waits for a journalist who wants to interview her about her past. While she waits she runs through the questions she will be asked, reflecting on her history, her actions and her moral choices.

Although it is an intelligent and sensitive play, it would seem insincere and clichéd if not for Elizabeth Hawthorne's spectacular performance in this hour and a half monologue. She has always provided Auckland audiences with memorable thespianic performances but never as confronting and disturbing as this

She inhabits the character, creating and expressing her many dimensions with subtlety and sensitivity. She is by turns comic, dramatic, beguiling, enchanting – all the qualities that Goldschlag herself needed to survive in her hostile worlds. She elicits our sympathy, our admiration and our horror. She conveys her emotional and spiritual core, not just in words but in her body language and her facial expressions. It all helps give a sense of her grappling with issues such as the notion that her sin was being too beautiful, the way she places self-interest above self-hatred, how she balances the protection of her family with the job of disposing of them.

Much of the time she reminisces to herself but other times she addresses a space between the audience and her mother who is there in the ether surrounding her. And there are sections of her monologue which are poetic and she handles those in a profound and elegiac manner.

If the audience reaction was anything to go by, this was a great performance. They moved from laughter at what at times seemed to be a stand-up comic routine through to the deathly silence and collective breath holding of the final moments of her performance.

There will be a short season later in the year at ONEONESIX in Whangarei (October 22-4).and an unconfirmed season in Wellington in September 2018.