Review: What it Means to Live with Origin Theatre Company's POISON

By: Nov. 19, 2016

Despite the fact that we are all human, certain people are not born as privileged as others; just to paraphrase Gatsby for a moment there (and I can imagine what Fitzgerald also had in mind when writing that), I'm not talking about material wealth and status. Some would say facing hardship and understanding what those experiences do to a person, and how their perspective on life is forever changed, would be considered privilege. These people are better, stronger, gentler and more understanding of others who can't always feel on the same emotion level as other people - that is, if they can feel at all. Others might think to avoid that life-changing grief all together, if at all possible, is the true gift.

I've always admired those who can see the world differently, but I guess that I never thought to question whether these people do so willingly, or it is the result of something they were chosen to carry the burden of. Out of all of us here, involved in this mess of a thing called "life," there are really very few who understand what it feels like to be stuck in time, in the same state of being for years and years with seemingly no exit - sad, empty and almost subhuman. Playwright Lot Vekemans has captured not only this sadness, but also poses an ultimatum in his play Poison that is so beautiful, I had to base my review on it: do we choose to hope, or choose to rest?

Presented by the Origin Theatre Company and directed by Erwin Maas, this translation of Poison (by Rina Vergano) at the Beckett Theatre teaches so many lessons, on so many different levels, that it is truly astounding. Just think of that question I posed earlier: hope versus rest. Isn't hope supposed to lead to rest...isn't rest supposed to come when what we hope for is finally fulfilled? For some people, no - for some people, hope is a curse, going nowhere and leading nowhere, bringing with it a wish for rest that doesn't come.

Now I'm a sucker for existential talk anytime, anywhere, but this show just so perfectly encapsulates a part of life that people don't always see: people who aren't always busy with their own lives, people who aren't happy hanging out with their friends, people who wish for a reason beyond that which is given to them, but one they cannot seem to find. They know what they want, and it is the same thing that the woman in this show wants: to be happy. Watching a man and a woman talk about how one is standing still while the other is trying to move on after the death of their young son, is absolute perfection; it is, in fact, beautiful. I don't call many shows beautiful, but this one nails it.

Poison brings two people together in a cemetery to discuss the desecration and movement of their son's grave, as part of the cemetery's plan to expand. In a style that is incredibly that of Waiting for Godot, this divorced couple comes together and must wait for the person who will come speak to them about their son's grave; of course he doesn't show up. Not having seen or heard from one another in ten long years, they awkwardly await the man that is to save them from their discomfort of being reunited; when he never arrives, they begin to talk about the past.

This is a past which involves the loss of their young son, a past that explains how the man up and left to begin a new life while the woman remained in the same state of mind from the day he did. Switching between despair and momentary moments of hope, to arguing and questioning why and finally being at peace enough to see each other in the same light as before they lost themselves, this beautiful production brings so many simple ideas with major significance behind them to fruition. Why can't everyone just be happy? Why can't people have something beautiful to live for, to save them from their despair? Why are others more privileged in their ability to simply live?

The set is simplistic, the costumes and overall presentation fundamentally mundane in their presentation; there is nothing meant to impress, but only to comprehend, to feel. It is truly amazing how simple conversation that goes on between these two characters can create a play that is so impressive because of the emotional depth it is able to reach. The present day is a continuous combination of the past and future, and although the audience is painfully aware of what is happening in the moment, what is witnessed in this show is the inability to convince the mind to move forward.

It really is such an experience to watch two people fight over something like this; as he tries to convince her of one thing, she perpetually goes into a state of disbelief and overwhelming sadness that the audiences sees cannot go away - it just keeps resurfacing. It's like the whole "tabula rasa" idea, where someone like this woman must start everyday as on a blank page, refreshed and waiting for the same pain to filter through her unrelenting mind; he, meanwhile, has moved on. Birgit Huppuch and Michael Laurence do a magnificent job of bringing life to a situation that many would have simply let die in the past. I was honestly riveted just watching them figure out their lives and, when joined by the beautiful voice of Jordan Rutter, it's a truly poignant show that will bring tears to your eyes...especially if you understand what at least one of them is going through.

Design team includes Jian Jung (set and costume design), Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew(lighting) and Sam LaFrage (sound design). Wonderful job!

As per the lyrics in the program by Richard Strauss, "And tomorrow the sun will shine again...she will again reunite us lucky ones..." This statement never had so much irony, but it hits home after seeing this show.

Poison began performances at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street) on November 10th and will continue thru December 11th. Tickets are $65 ($45 on the company's website), and may be purchased by visiting the box office or Please also check the website for performance schedule.

Enjoy the show!

Photo credit: Lou Montesano

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