By James Karas
Poison is a play by Dutch playwright Lot Vekemans that is based on the simplest of plots and consisting almost entirely on the recollections of a couple that has been separated for nine years. Yet it is a moving, elegiac play in which most of the deep emotions, the grief and the pain that it expresses form an almost invisible undercurrent. We share the expressed and especially unexpressed pain of the couple in this superbly done production of a marvellous play.
Vekemans calls the two characters of her play He and She and they meet in a cemetery in Holland for a meeting with other people about what should be done with the people buried there because their remains may be poisoning the waterbed.
There is no meeting and He and She stay to talk to each other haltingly, with numerous pauses and embarrassment. There is considerable emotional tension, anger and attempts to conceal their true feelings. But the facts do come out, slowly and judiciously controlled by the playwright and in turn by the actors.
Fiona Highet and Ted Dykstra in Poison. Photo: DAHLIA KATZ
He left her on New Year’s Eve 1999, the eve of the millennium at a precise hour and drove away. He is now living in France and went back to Holland for the meeting. Spoiler alert. The pain that joins them is the death of their son who was killed in an accident, right in front of his mother’s eyes. The pain is unbearable.
There are recriminations, attempts to understand why he left her and why she did nothing to stop him. Attempts and some success at sharing the grief and the pain, and attempts at reconciliation or at bridging the emotional gap are made but nothing really works.
Ted Dykstra plays He and Fiona Highet is She. Highet is a tall woman with expressive eyes and a voice that intones her complex emotions about her child, her separation, her anger and her loneliness. It is a beautiful performances that draws us into her beauty and agony.
Dykstra, with his tousled hair looks more like a kid than an adult. He stands accused of abandoning his wife, of not having the depth of feeling and sorrow that she feels and of moving on with his life. It is not true but he in fact has moved on with his life. He reaches out to her and she is almost ready to reach back until she is crushed by him again. He is married and expecting a child.
This beautifully moving play is done in the small playing area of the Coal Mine Theatre, in front of a bare white wall, some white plastic chairs and a water cooler designed by Patrick Lavender. Director Peter Pasyk controls the revelations and the emotional levels of the play to almost subliminal levels. The audience feels them more acutely that way.
A moving and splendid night at the theatre.