Words matter. And, as I discovered at Magic Theatre the other night, they can be more powerful than any prop, any costume, or any special effect. In the hands of a gifted playwright such as Ireland’s Mark O’Rowe words become poetic, assembled with extraordinary care, and mind-melting potency.
The visuals that O’Rowe conjures in his monologue-driven play Terminus so ignited my imagination at the premiere on Thursday night that they stuck with me, haunted me for days later. This coming from a guy who reveres fantastical and horrific fare; in melancholy and darkness story-tellers can often touch us most profoundly.
I suspect my date for the evening was reacting in a similar way to the material. At one point, as a character describes a specific moment of rage and the extreme actions that followed I noticed Loni to my left avert her eyes form the stage and cover her face. But it was to no avail. It was the cadenced words that were creating the searing visuals. This is a play with no props, no effects. There’s sumptuous lighting, some haze, and streetware as costumes, but everything else–the success in chilling us to the bone–is a result of words.
Known simply as “A”, “B” and “C”, three characters take turns recounting three separate stories on a single night in Dublin, Ireland. At first nothing appears out of the ordinary. These are are regular people doing regular things: hanging out at the pub, catching up with old friends, flirting on the dance floor. It’s not long before their worlds are turned inside out. Demons, angels, serial killers emerge, subtly, and with interesting intent. Gone are the comforts of the local pubs. In its place, dark underworlds where a monster made out of hundreds of thousands of worms might exist.
ALSO SEE: Dear Elizabeth
Amazingly, this is a play not without humor, as dark as it may be. Who knew that all a Locket-popping serial killer longed for was to one-up Bett Middler in a rendition of “Wind Beneath My Wings”? (Lockets, as I learned thanks to Wikipedia, are a common candy found in the UK).
Terminus wouldn’t work if it weren’t for the acting. Here, as we’ve seen time and time again at Magic, it’s flawless. Aspiring actors: your masterclass awaits, and it plays through June 16 so get to it, chop-chop. Stacy Ross, Marissa Keltie, Carl Lumbly: a thousand standing ovations. I know I’m not supposed to be in awe of an actor’s job–embarrassingly provincial of me! But how on earth each can remember so many lines, and deliver them error-free so authentically without one scene change over a period of about 100 minutes? It defies logic; until I realize that, yes, this is a playhouse that with each season continues to raise the bar of what we can expect from regional theater.
Before curtain, artistic director Loretta Greco asked us to share our experience, tell a friend if something in the evening’s performance “challenged” us. No doubt Terminus is challenging theater. It’s not sugar-coated. There’s no glossy coat of sing-song paint. It could be a long lost relative of a work such as the film Angel Heart. So I’m sharing here–and as I’m wont to do, on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter–in hopes that others will discover how much words still matter. Fly, Flyyyy, Flyyyyyyyyyyyyy…
Magic Theatre, San Francisco (Fort Mason Center D)
4.5 out of 5 stars
Yet another memorable evening of theater. Words can be incredibly powerful. Hellish visuals I won’t soon forget. #Terminus
— Clinton Stark (@clintonstark) May 31, 2013
- About those Irish accents then… they’re spot on, are they real I wondered? No, no, and no. Remarkable given their authenticity!
- Terminus marks the end of Magic’s 46th season which also featured The Other Place, Another Way Home, Se Llama Cristina, and The Happy Ones — indeed a victory lap is in order.
- Magic’s staging marks the first American production of Terminus.