Written by Lot Vekemans
Translated by Rina Vergano
Directed by Erwin Maas
From the moment the lights go up on Jian Jung’s spare set, POISON establishes both its minimalist aesthetic and its central metaphor. She (Birgit Huppuch), and He (Michael Laurence), are adrift in a world of empty spaces. They only have each other to turn to for answers, and the distance between them, forged by years apart, will not be easy to bridge. They were once a couple, a pretty happy one it seems, until the death of their young son Jacob drove a wedge between them. Now, after ten years apart, She feels the need to make contact. Ostensibly her urgency comes from the fact that the cemetery where Jacob is buried is threatened by new construction in the area. Chemical runoffs could toxify the soil, and his body may have to be moved.
The concern over the polluted ground turns out to be something of a red herring. What really needs to be disinterred is the unresolved pain She keeps buried deep inside her psyche. Though plenty of time has elapsed, closure remains unattainable. He, it turns out, has been able “put a period on” his grieving process. He has remarried and is starting a new family in France. At first, She’s resentful of his newfound happiness. She feels that, as a man, He can’t possibly have experienced the same sense of loss as a mother who witnessed her own child’s death. In time, though, her bitterness is replaced by curiosity. She wants to know how He got through it all, and his surprising revelations help her to find her own way of making peace with the past.
Playwright Lot Vekemans takes a refreshingly straightforward approach to the two hander form. Unlike some recent examples of the genre (Nick Payne’s CONSTELLATIONS, Phillip Ridley’s TENDER NAPALM, etc.) POISON doesn’t feature any formal pyrotechnics. The only non-naturalistic element is the ethereal voice of a countertenor Jordan Rutter, who stands in the aisles singing haunting selections from Richard Strauss’s “Morgen” between the scenes. Thankfully, the play is also free of showy catharses. Instead the story unfolds at a gentle, recognizably human pace. Outbursts of emotion erupt, then subside, arguments dissolve into laughter and tenderness. Huppuch and Laurence are affectingly real as a couple whose shared tragedy – the very thing that drove a wedge between them – now binds them together. Erwin Maas directs with a delicate touch.
POISON continues through December 11, 2016 at The Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan For tickets, call 800-447-7400 or visit http://www.origintheatre.org