Photo by Michael Swanson, Bluecatz Studio.
Blonde Poison at The Verona Studio is exactly the kind of provocative, risk-taking theatre that Salem needs.
The play, by Gail Louw, based on a book by Peter Wyden (Senator Ron Wyden’s father), traces the real-life journey of Stella Goldschlag, a Jewish woman who betrayed other Jews to the Gestapo during World War II. In the play, Stella prepares for an interview with a journalist. She re-lives her memories, talking to the audience casually as she interrogates (and justifies) her own choices.
The Verona Studio captures an outstanding performance by Carol Adams Fritsche, a veteran of several local productions and professional voice work. Carrying a one-woman show such as this demands incredible mental, physical, and emotional fortitude, and Adams Fritsche captivates throughout the entire performance. She adroitly switches between characters, accents, and times. The real challenge of the piece is creating sympathy for a person who commits truly despicable acts. Fortunately, Adams Fritsche does not fall into the trap of making Stella a simplistic monster, nor naively innocent. She adeptly finds Stella’s humanity and vulnerability, and that is what draws the audience into the performance.
Adams Fritsche is aided in her storytelling by lights and sound (designed by Mollie Rowe and Rachel Kinsman Steck, both of Willamette University), which ease the audience back and forth through time. Kudos also to director Susan Coromel (also of Willamette), whose hand is almost invisible—the mark of a true collaboration between director and actor.
“What would you have done?” the play asks, and Coromel underlines in her director’s notes. But that is not the question I came away asking. My questions were: What drives a person into compliance with an atrocity? What does it take to turn someone into a Nazi? In the case of Stella Goldschlag: Power. Pride. Ego. My question for Salem is: when do we get more theatre like this?
Blonde Poison closes on March 6, 7. 8pm, in the Verona Studio’s theater at Reed Opera House.
Elsewhere in the Mid-Valley
• Brush Creek Playhouse just closed The Search for the Fairy Princess, the company’s annual all-youth production. It was an original play, written by father-daughter team Michael and Emily Wood. The production required some patience on the part of adult viewers, in part due to slow-pacing and in part due to scene changes long enough for audience members to strike up conversations.
Two full casts played on opposite nights. There were some stand-outs among the young actors in Cast X: Lylia Nardin was a delight as the evil Queen Evander, and co-author Emily Wood came alive with conviction in the final act. With theatre for young audiences, one hopes for lively and entertaining fare for all audiences; this production fell short. On the other hand, my kids loved it.
• Pride and Prejudice continues at Western Oregon University, directed by David Janoviak. This fast-moving stage adaptation has been tested at Ashland Shakespeare Festival and elsewhere. The production features a sumptuous feast of period costumes, courtly dancing, and a cast of 30. If Downton Abbey is your bag, this show is for you. Runs through March 7.
“‘They seek him here, they seek him there,” Jay Gipson-King is a local educator and theatre artist, and Salem Weekly’s Salem Pimpernel. Keep up with Jay and see the full list of area auditions and performances at facebook.com/SalemTheatreNetwork.