Poison The Well (Elison Zasko) – 2010 Fringe Festival Toronto

By Adam Collier

A company called Elison Zasko is producing a play titled Poison The Well. It goes-up at the Annex Theatre, as part of Fringe in Toronto.

Before the lights went down in the intimate performance space, I struck-up a conversation with a nearby theatergoer. He was anticipating a good show, based on previous Fringe shows with these actors, Elison Zasko and Andrew Connor. Usually they do comedy, he said.

Poison The Well begins with a streak of Russian from Elison Zasko’s character Maya. She is in a black business suit, as is her onstage counterpart James.

A tense sequence of recognition follows a few moments later. As it turns-out, they knew one another as adolescents.

A hostage situation is the subject at hand though. And James is negotiating on behalf of the government, but as a representative of a big oil company in Russia. Maya is linked with the hostage takers (occasionally called “terrorists” or as James chides, “freedom fighters”) and delivering their demands.

Looking around the theatre about half-way through, just to see how people were reacting, the audience was absolutely riveted. In the occasional pause for thought, a pin could be heard were it dropped.

As the demands and counter-demands come-out, what’s revealed is the apparent arrogance of the Russian government, a recalcitrant position on ending its occupation of a (unidentified) territory, the desperation of the hostage takers, and ultimately, moral hypocrisy on both sides.

In the closing moments of the play, black and white photos of poor Russian women are projected on one of the very high walls of the theatre, while the actors dance on the table they had been negotiating around.

A sustained standing ovation followed.

For me, those last few moments had a haunting ambiguity, in part because the actors are in shadow. It wasn’t clear to me if they were still in character, childhood friends dancing in a renewed sense of intimacy? Or it was a comment on the futility of negotiation? Or maybe an image of what must happen and can’t in the light?

The ambiguity good – poignant – I think.

“He was excellent,” I heard a patron say, exiting the show, referring to Andrew Connor. I agree. And would add, so was she.

Also, I think the space – the Annex Theatre – was perfectly suited for a two-person show with just one entrance and one exit in the action.


Poison The Well is a Elison Zasko production

-Remaining performances include: Monday July 5th at 5:00PM; Tuesday July 6th at 1:15PM; Wednesday July 7th at 9:15PM; Friday July 9th at 5:45PM, and; Saturday July