Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe


Desert Rose Playhouse
Review by Rob Spiegel

Poster Art courtesy of Desert Rose Playhouse
Sometimes a play's primary purpose is to show us what it's like to be alive. And sometimes that's plenty. In Poison, a 2010 play by Dutch playwright Lot Vekemans, we see inside the powerful emotions of a broken couple many years after their separation. The English translation of the play by Rina Vergano hit U.S. audiences in 2016.

As the drama opens, the couple meets in a small chapel at a cemetery. They were previously married but "haven't seen each other in 10 years," according to the woman. "It's been nine years," corrects the man. Perhaps it's a trivial difference in perception, but every difference in perception is a point of contention with these two.

The couple is ostensibly at the cemetery because their son, who passed away when he was four, may need to be reinterred due to poison in the groundwater at the cemetery. They spend the entire play—pretty much in real time—waiting to meet with a cemetery official to consider options.

The cemetery is in the Netherlands where the woman still lives. The man has since moved to France. He arrives at the chapel first and while he's waiting for the woman to arrive, he takes notes in a notebook. We later find out he's writing a book about his experiences, presumably involving the death of his son. This becomes fodder for conflict.

In the play, the man and woman have no names, though we learn that the son's name is Jacob. During the minutes the man waits for his ex-wife, when he is not taking notes, he fondles a dinosaur toy, presumably his son's.

Over the course of the next couple of hours, we learn quite a bit about these two people. While they are both deeply wounded by the death of their son, who was hit by a car, we discover that the man has more or less successfully overcome the debilitating aspects of his grief. His ex-wife is still virtually frozen by sorrow over the death of her son and the death of her marriage. She remembers the exact moment her husband walked out, 7:20 pm on New Year's Eve, 1999.

While grief over the loss of a child can cause marital strife, it's apparently a myth that it leads to a high number or divorces. In 2006, Compassionate Friends conducted a survey that found 16% of couples divorced after the death of a child. Many of those couples cited existing marital strife. Those who identified the death of the child as the reason for divorce was 4%. Faulty data on the subject dating back to the 1970s put the rate at 90%.

As the man and woman become reacquainted, their differences emerge, and wounds reopen. We can see hints of the affection that originally brought these two together, but that's small compared with their raw and brutal conflicts. She resents his ability to move on, and he resents the guilt she tries to thrust on him. The emotions are certainly credible, but they're tough to watch. The script dangles a few questions as we learn the history of the couple. Those mysteries are revealed effectively as the emotions between the two characters rise and fall.

Director Shiela Freed has done a nice job with the production, pulling together two Desert Rose Playhouse stalwarts, Karen Byers and Christopher Chase. The two are veterans in the clash of the sexes, having gone after each other in Constellations and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. They both turn in superb performances.

Freed is responsible for the trim and appropriate set. The music design comes from Michael Montroy, with music wizard and operation by Elizabeth Goldfarb. The presence of the music is excellent. The volume is low but still audible during dialog, then rising slightly in volume during quiet moments. The music selection tracks the emotions onstage without getting corny. Wonderfully done.

I once again commend the Desert Rose Playhouse for bringing another strong new play to Albuquerque theatregoers.

Poison, through May 27, 2018, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 6921 Montgomery Blvd NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00. Tickets are $18 for general admission and $15 for students, seniors, and ATC members. For reservations, go online to