In searching for plays for Primal Forces’ return to Boca Raton this season, artistic director Keith Garsson wanted to find a Holocaust-themed work, but not the usual downbeat drama in shades of black and white.
He has found it in Blonde Poison by Gail Louw, based on the true story of Stella Kubler, who looks back on her younger self in Nazi Germany when she both saved many Jews and condemned others to death.
The play, which opened Friday and continues through March 10, asks the audience to decide whether Kubler is a villain or a victim. Garsson, who directs this production, expects Blonde Poison to whipsaw audience sympathies. “I hope that there’s murmuring and people turning their heads and saying to each other, ‘Boy, I don’t know what to think.’ Hopefully people will walk out going, ‘I don’t know what I would have done in her place.’ I want that question to be asked.
“There is a Machiavellian element to what this character does,” says Garsson. “I think most nights people are going to say, “I understand what she’s saying, but I don’t think I could go there.’ Does the end justify the means? It depends what the end is.”
Louw wrote Blonde Poison as a one-woman performance piece, as Kubler looks back on her life from the perspective of contemporary London, being interviewed by an unseen journalist.
This is veteran director Garsson’s first one-person play. “Most of them don’t do it for me, because there’s too much of what I call ‘retrospective remorse,’” he says. “Where the character spends a lot of time staring into space and talking regretfully and remorsefully about something they did and something that happened to them. I find that very boring.
“Secondly, a lot of one-person plays tend to be researched from the Wikipedia page. And third, very few of them go to the psychological depths or are willing to show the flaws of the person.” When he saw that Louw had fallen into none of these traps, he quickly applied for the performance rights.
But he knew that casting Kubler would be a critical decision. “You have to have somebody who is fearless in their approach to the stage. They have to love the opportunity to take this challenge on. Everyone I talked to down here said, ‘Oh, if that’s what you want, there’s only one choice.’” The name they all gave him was Lourelene Snedeker, four-time Carbonell Award winner, a veteran of almost 50 years on the stage.
“When you have an actress this talented and this prepared, it really supersedes the problems of a one-person show,” says Garsson. “We have tried to make the characters she describes come to life. Because she’s so vivid and so compelling, the 90 minutes will go by quickly and you’ll go, ‘I guess those other people didn’t show up.’”
From Blonde Poison alone, Garsson is very impressed by Louw’s writing skills. “She is an amazing storyteller. I think her strength as a writer is that she gave both sides equal weight, without losing sight of the evil streak underneath, the insensitivity to human life and how that gets mitigated.”
Primal Forces has diverged somewhat from its usual edgy, unconventional plays this season with the recent Having Our Say and the upcoming Neil Simon script, The Gingerbread Lady. But Blonde Poison returns the company to its more offbeat roots.
“It’s got the darkness. It’s got the female bent. And it is enhanced by an intimate setting,” notes Garsson. “I’m thinking this will be a nice spin, to put everybody up close and personal with the victim/villain. Right in their face. The other thing that makes it a Primal Forces play is it takes place inside someone’s head.”
Despite its dark themes, Garsson believes that theatergoers will find Blonde Poison seductive. “It’s very gradual and it’s subtle as it starts to suck you in. Very often you’ll say, ‘Oh, that poor woman.’ And then you’ll say, ‘How could she do that?’
“Theater has one and only one purpose – entertainment. I think people will find this very entertaining because they’ll be compelled. And hopefully riveted.”
BLONDE POISON, Primal Forces at Sol Theatre, 3333 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Through Sunday, March 10. $30-$35. Call 866-811-4111 or visit primalforces.com.