Fuse Theater Review: An Over-the-Top “Terminus”

As long as the wizardly spell of dramatist Mark O’Rowe’s creative versification stays strong, Terminus holds you firmly in its slip-slimy grip. The nimble verse is rappy and snappy, a sort of slangy, obscene, sing-song rhyme (with some breath-taking vocal syncopation) that accentuates rather than undercuts the dark doings of the play, at least for a while.

Terminus. Written and Directed by Mark O’Rowe. ArtsEmerson presents the Abbey Theatre production at the Paramount Theatre, Boston, MA, through February 13.

The Abbey Theatre cast is TERMINUS bound. Photo by Ros Kavanagh

By Bill Marx.

The advertising for the Abbey Theatre production, the final entry in ArtsEmerson’s Irish Festival, usefully claims that Terminus is “not for the faint of heart.” Perhaps the message should also include a helpful heads-up that it is not for “the skeptical of mind.” Or some sort of warning to those who can only bear so much much X-treme Gothic melodrama at one time. This is not to say that Terminus isn’t memorable—two-tons of Irish terror tend to stick with you.

To its credit, Mark O’Rowe’s nightmarish, linguistically ingenious journey through Dublin after dark provides a challenging, compelling, and distinctly different evening of theater, at its best a mordantly surreal, serio-comic fusion of the urban and transcendent. But Terminus doesn’t know when to stop mixing horrors and yuks, eventually running off the rails into a kitschy amalgamation of sex and death that comes off as a hallucinogenic version of the adolescent Twilight saga—lots of blood and guts, wormy monsters, and heavy-breathing for adults. Once your BS detector kicks in, the play becomes more guilty pleasure than emotionally satisfying drama.

Still, as as long as the wizardly spell of O’Rowe’s creative versification stays strong, Terminus holds you firmly in its slip-slimy hands. The nimble verse is rappy and snappy, a sort of slangy, obscene sing-song rhyme (with some breath-taking vocal syncopation) that manages to accentuate rather than undercut the nihilistic doings of the play, at least for a while.

The theatrical approach is interlocked storytelling, which is not my favorite; I like plays where the characters talk to each other rather than to the audience. After sounds of a shattering mirror or window (this is story of what happens behind the looking glass?), the three Abbey Theatre performers (playing “A,” “B,” and “C”) take turns delivering interwoven monologues telling us what happens to them on a hellacious evening in Dublin.

And what a night it is, moving from an attempt of a middle-aged female working at the Samaritans to save a young, pregnant woman from the machination of a group of violent lesbians seeking to abort the fetus via a sharpened broom stick to a flirtatious date in a construction crane that goes very wrong and then kinkily otherworldly. Finally, there is the misogynistic doings of a serial killer who ends up as a singing soul-in-torment.

For a good portion of Terminus, you go along with the hyperbolic wrack and ruin, not only because of O’Rowe’s tangy language and rhythms but also because of the expert performances of the Abbey Theatre cast: Olwen Fouéré, Catherine Walker, and Declan Conlon inject an earnest rhetorical energy and sly modulation to their outrageous yarns that manages to add some subtlety into the poetic over-the-topness of it all. They negotiate the script’s wild turns from the ghoulish to comic, at times even managing to play against, though never wholly subvert, type.

But by the last quarter of Terminus, the cast members can’t keep credible tongues in their heads, the script nose-diving into a gooey and ghastly combination of the sentimental and the apocalyptic, the latter strand proffering a truly weird collision of Hollywood schlock, metaphysical evisceration, and heavenly amateur hour that makes everything narrated before look suspect—is Terminus essentially a shaggy devil story? Hard to tell . . . and by the end you don’t care enough to figure out whether you have been sitting through 140 minutes of high fantasy or low farce.


  1. helen epstein on February 12, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Glad we stayed away!

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