It’s bad enough to be lost and lonely on the mean streets of Dublin. Even worse when the Devil’s stiffed you in a deal, lesbian psychopaths are assailing you with snot and fists, and angels and demons made entirely of worms are duking it out for your soul. Still, there’s always the songs of Bette Midler to ease the pain. Plus, those honey-filled cough drops known as Lockets, available in all fine stores throughout Ireland.
As the above description might suggest, Mark O’Rowe’s award-winning play, brought to the Centaur by Toronto’s Outside the March, swoops between the heights of a latter day Paradise Lost or Faust, and the grime, kitsch and banality of everyday reality.
Consisting of three interlinked monologues, delivered with staccato energy by three characters simply called A, B and C, Terminus is a whooshing vortex of narrative ingenuity, all delivered in a reckless, fender-bending rhyme scheme. A high-wire act of exaggerated style and preposterous substance, it totters and stumbles here and there : O’Rowe occasionally overplays his hand for the wacky anecdote, and sometimes goes for rhyme that’s not so much sublime as what’ll do to get him from one place to the next. And things get so fast and furious at times that key scenes are lost in the frenzied gabble of the performers.
Mostly, though, this is a dazzling display of bravura storytelling which bursts the boundaries of dramatic convention and snatches up the attentive listener (and you do need to be attentive), swooping them off into nightmarish, jet-black comic worlds.
A (Sarah Dodd) is a middle-aged woman whose own calamitous past has been subsumed into her work for a Samaritans call centre. When one of her callers hangs up, leaving the shreds of a story of imminent danger in the air, A embarks on a rescue mission that brings her face-to-face with a terrifying trio of lesbian Furies.
B (Ava Jane Markus) is a lonely young woman whose solitary life, counted out in microwave meals, is interrupted by a friendly invitation to the pub. Several drinks later, she finds herself involved in a sordid tryst atop a crane, and enjoying the attentions of a bizarre, demonic visitor from the netherworld.
Things get odder still with C (Adam Kenneth Wilson), a bashful guy who visits singles bars and sees fat girls as low-hanging fruit. A deal with the Devil has gifted him the best singing voice in the world, but he’s too shy to let rip with his favorite song, Bette Midler’s The Wind Beneath My Wings. So his frustration finds release in the brutal murder of his pick-ups.
As with his debut play, Howie the Rookie, O’Rowe conjures up a distinctly, sometimes ickily tangible world powered solely by confrontational storytelling. Sometimes it unexpectedly blooms into moments of quiet tenderness and achingly humane grace. But the key register is a kind of punk ferocity which delights in shocking the audience, often into devilish bursts of laughter.
Director Mitchell Cushman makes the most of the poised tension between the fixedness of the storytellers (balanced precariously on black scaffolding strung with thrumming, entrail-like strips) and the volatility of their characters, with their raw, picaresque tales. A painfully rumbling industrial grunge soundscape sets us up for the uncompromising material, anticipating the queasiness (be advised) we soon feel from the stories’ grotesque and visceral twists and turns.
Terminus is playing at Centaur Theatre to Feb 15
Jim Burke is a playwright and arts journalist originally from England, now resident in Montreal. Among his plays are Cornered and an adaptation of Moby Dick. He has written plays for BBC radio. In England, he was Theatre Editor for the arts and lifestyle magazine City Life. Jim currently teaches creative writing at Dawson College’s Centre For Training and Development.