The John Keats poem "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" might be an apt epithet for Stella Goldschlag, the fair-haired, blue-eyed Jew whose reminiscences British playwright Gail Louw dramatizes in Blonde Poison. The play’s title refers to the nickname given to Goldschlag by the Nazi Gestapo, who used her as a greifer (“catcher”) to report on fellow U-boats, or Jews trying to hide their identities during the Holocaust.
Played by veteran actress Salome Jens, Goldschlag is introduced to us as a 71-year-old waiting in her living room for a journalist to interview her. As she waits, she begins sharing her story in a rambling, stream-of-consciousness style, pointedly making the distinction between her blonde, good-looking family and other German Jews. To Louw’s credit, Goldschlag is unvarnished in her self-portrayal, talking openly and unstintingly about the sexuality of her youth, her anti-Semitic impulses, and the harsh choices she made to try to ensure her survival and that of her parents.
The play’s U.K. productions garnered acclaim, but its U.S. premiere is unfortunately less than stellar. Director Jules Aaron’s pacing drags in places, and his clumsy employ of music to underscore Goldschlag’s recollections feels trite in a pseudo-cinematic way. Aaron’s shaping of Jens’ emotional eruptions seems erratic, and while Jens sheds real tears, her countenance lacks the expressiveness to allow us to feel those same emotions. It’s a shame, because the source material raises tough moral questions that seem worthy of our attention.
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Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; through Jan. 26. (310) 364-0535, theatre40.org.
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