REVIEW: Studio Theatre’s grotesque yet beautiful monologue play, ‘Terminus,’ is mesmerizing.
“Terminus”, now in Studio Theatre’s 2ndstage, recreates the moody nostalgia of a Beat poetry session. The only thing missing is a thumping drum accompaniment. “Terminus” is a dark monologue play by Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe, written in rhyme, but the rhythm is never intrusive. “Terminus” is a unique theatrical experience in a work that starts out realistic and quickly morphs into the supernatural.
The brilliance of the work and the performances are so intense that even though we wrestle with attempting to see what O’Rowe is saying, we can’t turn away no matter how grotesque the unrelated stories become. There is the question of what this is and where is it going?
“Terminus” has three characters identified only as (A), (B), and (C) who never interact with each other through the entire play. Each actor performs lengthy monologues of what appear to be unrelated stories of death and violence for the nearly two hours of the performance with no intermission. And with indifferent demeanors, when the other two actors are not speaking, they fade into themselves and pay no attention to the monologue and never leave the stage.
The actors, Nanna Ingvarsson (A), Katie Ryan (B), and Dylan Myers (C) perform the enticingly written rhyming like ancient bards. All three are masterful artists: Ingvarsson as (A), a former school teacher obsessively attempting to rescue a former student from a back street abortion; Ryan as (B), her estranged, desperately lonely daughter who falls from a crane and is rescued by the Angel of Death; and, Dylan Myers (C), a shy, serial murderer who sells his soul to the devil for a beautiful singing voice.
None of this seems relevant to the central thrust of “Terminus,” and the concentration is on the sharp focus of minimalism: the Deborah Thomas set design is little more than the bare brick back wall of the theater with the three actors on a platform that represents a grate over an underground rail system. It is cluttered with urban debris. Adrian Rooney’s lighting and sound contribute to the air of empty hopelessness as the three characters prow the bleak underside of Dublin.
There is the disgusting concept that the Angel of Death who saves (B) is made up entirely of worms. And the brutal, murderous (C) feels cheated in that while the devil gave him a melodious voice, he neglected to deal with the fact that he is too shy to ever be able to sing in public. And (A’s) quest to save her former student comes to a bloody end.
O’Rowe’s evocative verse of scenes of violence and horror are mesmerizing. It is because “Terminus” is dedicated to the sound and beauty of words, that a more traditional setting or on-stage interaction of the actors would interfere with the dark mood he has created. Under the smooth, understated control of director Tom Story, the tension and horror is relentless, but never excessive.
“Terminus” is exactly what it sets out to be – a termination of the sometimes awful vagaries of life. It may look and seem like a Beat poetry session of another time, but what it actually is, is story telling in its most basic and effective form.
“Terminus” continues through January 4, 2015 at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. Tickets are $20 – $35 and available at 202-332-3300 and online here.