Terminus, Abbey Theatre on tour

Written by:
Lewis Whittington
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What Would the Divine Miss M Say?

Written and directed by Mark O’Rowe
Abbey Theatre (on tour)
Harold Prince Theatre, Philadelphia
Feb. 16-20, 2011

Dublin’s revered Abbey Theatre is on tour with an austere, challenging work by writer-director Mark O’Rowe that seems to be a love-hate proposition. Certainly with a title like “Terminus” you get the hint that it isn’t going to be a romp. Rowe’s meat-grinder of shaggy-dog stories, supernatural horror and existentialist drama is for some an ingenious dark riddle; to me, an excuse to get drunk on an ultra-sex and violence brew.

Ambitious, certainly, O’Rowe is without doubt a unique wordsmith and intriguing storyteller, tapping into Irish national art that is being celebrated by a season-long, city-wide Irish Theatre Festival. But, “Terminus” retreats to pitiless morbidity that cheats his characters and us.

The concept of “Terminus” bounds three actors on slabs, like Icaruses, in a stage frame with shards of mirrors suspended around them to individually narrate their stories. “A” (so named for theater of the absurd decoration) is a former teacher who now works on a suicide prevention line. She recognizes one of the callers, who is about to have her near full-term fetus aborted. The teacher ventures into the dark wood to try to save her. “B” is a woman who is rescued by a demon seconds before she is killed falling off a crane in the middle of a sex act. “C” is a lounge lizard whose night on the town turns into a Faustian nightmare.

The horrors just seem to outdo each other, as with the details of a lesbian ogre who is about to abort the baby with a broomstick. Or how about when C’s bar pick-up turns into an evisceration? Supernatural plot points around sexual exploitation, abandonment, loneliness and violence wend to a wormy Mephistophelean finale.

As the murder and mayhem is told in every forensic detail, the three degrees of separation between A, B and C are revealed. Somehow Bette Midler’s anthem “Wing Beneath My Wings” gets dragged into the carnage. See, C’s deal with the devil involves his being able to sing well but … oh, never mind.

Olwen Fouréré, Catherine Walker, and Declan Conlon are actors of conviction and craft. Would that they were disabused to master the grisly verse that assaults O’Rowe’s poetry ( “… we go, see the slo-mo ebb and flow; the mill, the babble, the rabble of wobbling waywards, exiled and aimless, unlike us as, purposeful and double-file, like kids on a dare, we head who the hell knows where? …”). But they somehow overcome O’Rowe’s steel-spike theatrical straitjacket.

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