From NLD to NL, Dutch playwright Lot Vekemans’ “Poison” opened at the LSPU Hall on Wednesday.
Directed by Charlie Thomlinson, the two-hander stars Alexis Koetting and Aiden Flynn in the roles of He and She, a divorced couple reuniting in a waiting room in a cemetery.
The circumstances are unusual, sad and dark – poisonous groundwater is posing the potential threat of having to disinter their dead son.
The ensuing conversation, their first in almost a decade, matches the circumstances.
He’s back from France to deal with the issue at hand. She is in the same place he left her nine years ago, geographically and emotionally, crippled with grief.
The pair bumbles through polite conversation, but every word is emotionally charged, as they try to find the right words for the deep-rooted and often inexpressible feelings that have been pent up for so long.
He recalls the first time he saw her, creating a moment seemingly tender enough that he reaches out to touch her, which doesn’t go over well.
This is just one of many painful moments in “Poison,” but it’s not because it’s painful to watch – it’s because Koetting and Flynn are capable of creating believable pain and heartbreak.
The two actors constantly trade musings about the effects of their shared pain on one another’s lives, almost debating each other based on how they spent the past 10 years living with their very different ways of grieving.
Together, they are “a man and a woman … who first lost a child, then themselves and then each other.”
Though “Poison” consists of a lot of back and forth conversation, the old adage that “silence speaks volumes” is true in this play, with dramatic pauses that seem to thicken the air with tension.
The tension is heightened with the news that he is married, with a child on the way, and writing a book of prose. She feels that he has attempted to forget about the past, a past that she grips her as tightly now as it did 10 years ago.
They talk about the past periodically, sometimes romanticizing their former lives, other times criticizing each other for their past actions, and later fondly recalling the final moments of their son’s life.
Though much conversation is focused on their unique takes on the emotional toll of their shared experience, they seem to say both everything and nothing in an hour and a half.
By the end of the play, the conflict isn’t “solved” per se. Neither character has a revelation that leads them to rekindle their relationship, or even end up in agreement about their tragic eternal bond.
But that isn’t the ending to expect anyway – no play or playwright, from NLD or NL, can concisely sum up the unique and universal human experience of coping with the excruciatingly painful experience of loss, but Koetting and Flynn, under Thomlinson’s direction, make a valiant attempt.
"Poison" until Sunday at the LSPU Hall in St. John's.