Lot Vekemans’ 2009 drama Poison (translated from the original Dutch title Gif) is widely considered to be one of the most internationally successful plays coming from the Netherlands. It won the Taalunie Toneelschrijfprijs Award in 2010 for best new Dutch play. Poison has since been translated into many languages and staged all over continental Europe, as well as in Russia, South America, and Mexico. Poison will also be premiering on stage in China and South Africa in the coming year, and there are plans for film adaptions in both Dutch and English. Vekemans’ play is a 90-minute snapshot of a larger story: a story about, in the words of one of its own characters, “A man and woman… who first lost a child, then themselves, and then each other”. The provocative piece is now enjoying its long overdue American premiere at The Beckett Theatre at New York City’s famous Theater Row, courtesy of the Origin Theater Company. This version is translated by Rina Vergano and directed by Erwin Maas.
It’s not difficult to understand why Vekemans’ work adapts so well for international productions. The central story— about a separated couple confronting their past— can be appreciated by a universal audience, as can the play’s concurrent themes of loss, anger, grief, frustration… and, ultimately, healing. Aside from the reference to “euros” and European locations, this man and woman could be any race or ethnicity. Any play with only two characters (especially two characters with so much emotional entanglement between them) requires a very palpable chemistry on the stage. Laurence and Huppuch deliver that chemistry, with equal amounts of both fine wordless acting and savage delivery of their dialogue. For the audience, it’s like watching a well-choreographed anti-mating ritual. The performances are splendid, a standout example being when Huppuch’s characters recalls her last minutes with her dying son. It’s almost painful to watch.
Like the “He” and “She” of the play, the audience may be holding expectations for some degree of closure and/or hope at the conclusion of the story— particularly because through the course of the play, we really feel the pair’s varying levels of pain. Poison ultimately honors our expectations— but just like with the characters, it’s a long emotional journey along the way.
Poison runs through Sunday, December 11 at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street, New York City. For more information, visit www.OriginTheatre.org.
(All photos by Lou Montesano.)