By Mark O’Rowe. Directed by Richard Wolfe. A Pi Theatre production. At Performance Works on Saturday, March 2. Continues until March 17
I’d sell my soul to the devil if I could write like Mark O’Rowe.
In Terminus, the Irish playwright intertwines three monologues. The first woman we meet is working on a mental-health hot line when she gets a call from one of her former students, who is well into her third trimester and looking for an abortion. When the onetime teacher loses the call, she goes off into the Dublin night, tracking the caller—and her dangerous lesbian lover—like a female Philip Marlowe who has stepped into an Irish version of Trainspotting.
Then we meet a younger woman who gets lured to the top of a construction crane one drunken night, walks out onto its arm, and falls—only to be caught by a demon with leathery wings.
And, finally, there’s the shy guy who really has sold his soul to the devil—in exchange for a golden singing voice. He’s a charmer, but he does very bad things.
Playwright O’Rowe certainly has a voice: language is the star here. Taste this: “nipples poking, evoking so prevailing a craving, I’m quaking”. Or this: “harder, with hunger, under the low-lit lamp”. The rhythms and internal rhymes are enough to make you drunk.
And the story builds. There was a point when the imagery became so awful that I very nearly got off the bus, metaphorically speaking, but I committed to the ride and I’m glad I did. As I see it, the violence in Terminus is about rage against isolation and against living in a debased society—so the vivacious fury of the text is life-affirming.
Director Richard Wolfe has cast two newcomers to Vancouver in this Pi Theatre production and they both serve notice that they are forces to be reckoned with. Leanna Brodie, who plays the helpline volunteer, fills every brutal, tender, exultant corner of her text. Because John Emmet Tracy is alert to every nuance of the language, including its dark humour, his performance as the singer is a miracle of detail—and gamesome sexiness. Everybody who loves acting should see this piece of work. In the role of the girl who’s grabbed by the demon, Pippa Mackie brings a softer tone, and admirable authority.
Lighting designer Alan Brodie matches the text’s graphic-novel intensity with high contrasts and moody shadows. David Mesiha brings a similarly stark and even more startling drama to his sound design. And the eight staggered platforms in David Roberts’s set feel Greek in their simplicity.
Terminus will not be to everybody’s taste, but it deserves to find its audience. Take the risk.