Blonde Poison – Stream of Consciousness and acting on behalf of the Government. (Theatre Review)
Adam Liberman in association with Red Line Productions
Old Fitz Theatre 28 July to 15 August 2015
Blonde Poison is an interesting play to be showing to Sydney audiences in 2015. While it is most certainly a holocaust story, it is more importantly the story of an ordinary person who chose to do terrible things, convinced they are tied to her preservation. It all harkens back to Hannah Arendts essay on the banality of evil and the striking truth that bad things happen because ordinary people choose to follow impulses and responses within, that speak to our small selves. The Holocaust is a special story because the evil represented is extreme, but Sydneysiders would do well to remember that Nazism wasn’t immediately and obviously wrong to people at the time, and it is our 20/20 hindsight that gives power to stories of someone like Stella Goldschlag. It is only his defeat that informs us Hitler was wrong. If he had been a success and taken over the world, we all would regard Stella as a hero and her life would have been a different one. The question Gail Louw poses to an Australia that has voted in a government that favours the polemic, is what makes Stella bad, and what makes her suffer?
Josh Oppenheimer deals with this question in his film The Act of Killing, a documentary about Indonesian men celebrated as heroes for the evil they committed under similar circumstances to Stella Goldschlag, who has to live with the humility of sharing in the defeat of Hitler and the embarrassment of the demise of his philosophies. However, more interesting than the question of karmic retribution is the question of motivation to act against one’s fellow human beings in the first place, and in both The Act of Killing and Blonde Poison, it was the extreme acts of the government of the day that forced alliances made over a “tough stand” and gives ordinary human creatures the opportunity to show allegiance in trade for their own safety. Australian’s are not stupid people, even if they have elected a stupid government. We have given our allegiance over the treatment of the alyssum seekers, the cutting of international aid and the tough stand on the working poor in trade for an assurance that we are seen as non-victims. We must be seen as collaborators with the government, equally tough and equally ambitious, or we will cut the current government down at the next election. The most interesting question when a government openly attacks minorities, as our government does, is what hvae the people exchanged for tolerating this behaviour? In the case of Stella Goldschlag, the price she paid has turned out to be too high. But only years after the fact, and by going down in her own governments landslide defeat.
Blonde Poison itself is a one woman monologue forged out of the nervous conversation one has with oneself on the verge of a challenging societal confront. It’s based on a true story, and while its adherence to realism can make it ia difficult watch, it is an enormous relief to see a fantastic one-woman performance one the scale Belinda Giblin is able to call forth. Belinda Giblin is worth the ticket alone, giving a hard-hitting approach to the role that above all else is starkly intelligent while immersed in a particular culture at a very strange and special time in history. Giblin portrays an ordinary woman, defined as special and note worthy by the actions she took, rather than who she might be, bringing an existential aspect to the role and a decidedly female portrayal of the anxiety associated with being. As we watch her relentlessly search for justification of her actions, we are brought face to face with the destructive force of our own internal monologue in the wake of thoughtlessness.
Jennifer Hagain chooses to keep the script realist and work through its density appealing to the audiences generosity at some of the sagging moments. The every woman aspect of Stella Goldschlag is what makes Blonde Poison powerful, but it is also what makes it tricky to endure at times, as Louw script is dense with the kind of character introspection that can appear meandering. The appeal to our ability to stay with Stella is made through the powerhouse presence of Giblin and the insistence that our humanity is not just a thing to be called forth, it equally needs to be volunteered. Jennifer Hagan asks us to stand with Stella in her glorious horror and she refuses to water down that experience with the narrative tropes of an ever-expanding suspense or character reflection in the voice of others. Blonde Poison becomes a stream of consciousness examination of a human at a crises point defined more by her perception of societies judgement than by a build up toward its shocking conclusion. This makes for a complex and often difficult theatre experience that Jennifer Hagan offers as a challenge. However the opportunity is available to see ourselves in Stella and to recognise our own choices in the reflection of the government we elect.
Blonde Poison takes place on Derrick Cox’s set which remains true to the realism established by Hagan. Matthew Tunchon’s subtle lighting and Jeremy Silvers ticking clock add their own emphasis to the relentless existential march toward and away from Stella’s powerful choices. Blonde Poison is another excellent production from the Red Line Production team making the second half of their inaugural Old Fitz year a constantly engaging and interesting experience of Sydney theatre, boding well for a vibrant future.