ORLANDO – The Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival kicks off at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 18 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, and this year the nearly three-week long festival will feature the largest line-up of shows in its history.
The shows include “Blonde Poison,” a drama by Gail Louw based on the true story of a Jewish woman during World War II who betrayed up to 3,000 fellow Jews. Actress Carol Adams of Play On Productions talked to Freeline Media about the show.
FM: “Blonde Poison” is based on the true story of Stella Goldschlag. How did you learn of her life story?
Carol: I was very lucky that a local theatre company in Salem, Oregon found the script and thought of me when they decided to mount it. One of the theatre producers said, “I thought of you the entire time I was reading it.” And I believe Gail became familiar with Stella’s story when she was attending a lecture. Hearing just the name “Blonde Poison” and a few facts about Stella’s life, Gail turned to her friend and said “This is my next play.” Of significant interest is the play’s direct connection to Oregon. Gail did extensive research before she wrote “Blonde Poison.” One of the books that most informed her writing was “Stella: One Woman’s True Tale of Evil, Betrayal, and Survival in Hitler’s Germany” written by Peter Wyden — the father of Oregon Senator Ron Wyden. I was honored that Senator Wyden attended my opening night in Salem!
FM: What was it like creating the show as a one-person narrative?
Carol: From an actor’s perspective, this is the most difficult piece of acting I have ever attempted. And yet, I feel as if my various theatre experiences and training have all led me to this role. Creating over 20 characters is aided by my work in children’s theatre and improv classes. Vocal and dialect training obviously comes into play. And I have always preferred small casts, relishing two-person shows. It was time to take on this challenge. And when I’m performing, it’s the most liberating I’ve ever felt on stage, because I don’t have to adjust to someone else’s timing or error. The flip side of the coin is that I’m alone up there -– there is no one to help me out if I lose my place or forget a piece of the text!
FM: Is the play historical, or in some ways also topical and timely to issues being dealt with today?
Carol: There is no doubt that this play is relevant and timely. As stated in the script’s foreword, “The issues that emerge from this story are relevant to areas of conflict throughout the world today. They relate to what makes a victim, the impact of torture on behavior, morality and immorality and its boundaries, the ethics of self-preservation, the extent of anti-humanitarian activities in the face of personal danger, and the effect of extraordinary times on essentially ordinary people.”
The play also resonates with events taking place throughout the world today. Torture is continually in the pages of our newspapers and our television screens; how it is often far from effective yet still used as instruments of punishment as well as a means of obtaining information.
There are also strong parallels between “Blonde Poison” and the Syrian refugee crisis dominating today’s headlines. Millions of desperate migrants are seeking asylum from a fanatical dictator and civil war. Sadly, the Syrian refugee experience closely mirrors that of the Jews: rejection at the border and immigration quotas. Immigration quotas play a key role in keeping Stella and her family from succeeding in their attempt to escape Germany and her bitterness toward those policy-makers is quite evident as she tells her life story.
And perhaps most importantly, overall public interest in this era remains high, even 70-plus years after the liberation of Auschwitz. Anniversary dates of death camp liberations are commemorated annually with somber services. Holocaust survivors continue to tell their horrific tales, or aged Nazi war criminals are discovered and put on trial, and both create headlines. Countless movies — many Oscar winners for Best Picture — and numerous plays are set in World War II, but “Blonde Poison” delivers a true account of the war from a very different perspective. The story of Stella Goldschlag and her extraordinary success as an informer may be one of the only untold true stories set in Berlin during the War. It is a story of ultimate choice. It is a story that addresses one of the most profound and difficult questions of the 20th Century and a question anyone could ask themselves today: What would I do to survive?
FM: What are the challenges in creating theatrical art about as devastating a subject as the Holocaust?
Carol: The biggest misconception is that the show is anti-Semitic. That could not be further from the truth. Gail’s life was shaped by the fact that her mother’s parents were killed in the camps. Per Gail — quoted from an earlier article: “It’s a moral story,” she says. “It’s asking the question: ‘What would I have done in that situation?’ ” Somebody said to me that the play isn’t about a hero or an anti-hero –- Stella is an ordinary person who is vain and selfish. It can be lifted above the Holocaust framework.
FM: After Fringe, where does “Blonde Poison” go from here?
Carol: I am participating in the San Francisco Fringe Festival in September. After that, I hope to work in partnership with a reputable production company and tour “Blonde Poison” around the United States.
“Blonde Poison” is being performed in the Orlando Fringe PINK Venue (the Mandell Theater at Lowndes Shakespeare Center). The show runs 90 minutes with no intermission. Times are:
* Thursday, May 19 at 6:15 p.m.
* Saturday, May 21 at 12:30 p.m.
* Tuesday, May 24 at 6:15 p.m.
* Friday, May 27 at 7:15 p.m.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..