BY BRUCE DENNILL
Blonde Poison / Directed by Janna Ramos-Violante / Auto & General Theatre On The Square, Sandton, Johannesburg
This moving one-hander by Gail Louw stars Fiona Ramsay as Stella Goldschlag, a septuagenarian German Jew who, while awaiting the arrival of a journalist interested in questioning her about her activities during the Second World War, takes a meandering walk down memory lane, encountering the shades of a number of friends and enemies along the way.
Almost all of the show is a monologue, broken by the occasional voice-over interjection as the journalist (voiced by James Alexander) and Stella’s daughter Klara (the voice of director Janna Ramos-Violante) make themselves known in the developing to-and-fro inside her head.
Ramsay’s retention of a huge amount of text – Stella only really pauses to draw breath, or when switching mood to serve each scene – and her mastery of the accent required are impressive but not surprising for an actress of her pedigree. What is more enthralling is the mixture of those skills and a narrative that gives a perspective on WWII that is often not considered in much detail.
The mindset of a Jew partly unable, but in many ways also unwilling, to leave Nazi Germany is explored, and it’s not a comfortable ride. The notion that a comfort zone carved – of necessity – out of dubious ethics, casual cruelty and the pressures created by a fragile self-image could still be a place in which a person could be happy and deem themselves successful is unsettling. This could be because audience members will be aware – some more than others – of how far they would be willing to bend the rules to ensure their own well-being, and that in situations far less dramatic than the Berlin of the early 1940s…
As Ramsay reveals, in exquisite detail, each new layer of the character, Stella moves slowly from left to right across the stage, where different elements of the stark, industrial set begin to make sense as she interacts with them. It’s a brilliant mechanism, mirroring so much in life that follows a similar path – a reader’s eyes across the page; the appearance of words on a screen as they are typed; the passage of a needle across vinyl – and measuring the completeness of the narrative as it does so. That said, knowing exactly when Stella’s story will end, and how, is made no easier by this physical clue, as Louw’s script maintains its intensity until the end.
The themes here are eternal – sin, the need for repentance and forgiveness, the drive to succeed and the desire to be loved – but in Stella, the decisions she’s made and the challenging times she’s lived through, they’re given powerful new breath.