— John Emmet Tracy. Photo by Ian Snow
If you want theatre to take you to the edge—then ask you to jump off—Mark O’Rowe’s Terminus might be your ticket.
Even though that title tells us precious little and the promotional poster (of a frightened female) could serve as advertising for a B-grade horror/slasher flick, anything developed and presented by the Abbey Theatre of Dublin is automatically worthy of interest.
In a chilly, back entrance venue at Performance Works, this noteworthy and alarming Pi Theatre production, directed by Richard Wolfe, presents a triad of three nightmarish monologues, equally interspersed, without interaction between the three characters, during one night in contemporary Dublin.
The Dubliners it’s not; but there is a Joycean lilt to the voices and the playful musicality of O’Rowe’s incessant rhyming for all of the characters, so bizarrely at odds with the violent stupidity and murderous violence described by the cast of Leanna Brodie, John Emmet Tracy and Pippa Mackie.
A penchant for child-like rhyming within the confines of a serious play was also heard recently in a touring production from the Scottish National Theatre for the recent PuSh Festival. Does infectious rhyming for any and all scenes enhance the believability of a contemporary character? Or do couplets and cleverness serve to distance us from humanity and chiefly make us notice the performance of the playwright?
Is this what happens to new playwrights reared on rap? Or is it just crap? Is this a new Euro thing? Or some darkly diabolical dialectical fling?
One defence would be Shakespeare. But asking an audience to swallow cutesy rhymes from a character who is being savagely violated up the rectum is, well, off-putting. It can be justified as original but we cease to care about the person on stage; we notice instead the playwright waving his arms in front of our faces, like someone inserting himself between the audience and the stage. At least a cell phone going off is temporary.
Terminus opens with a promising scenario. A middle-aged, emergency hotline volunteer (Brodie) receives a call from a young woman who wants to terminate her pregnancy, even though the baby is almost due. She is doubly horrified to realize the voice belongs to a former student of hers. She leaves the desk and promptly tries to find the mother-to-be, or not-to-be. That is the question. Her mission is beyond moral rectitude. It’s just something a decent person cannot fail to do.
The second monologue from a younger woman (Mackie) is less gripping until she is trapped at the end of a monstrous construction crane with the wife of her best friend who, she realizes, has been complicit in her hubbie’s desire to entrap, seduce or rape her. It proceeds to get nastier and otherworldly as if Terminus is a conscious effort to obviate the axiom that once we realize anything can happen in a play or movie, we cease to care. What are the limits, what are the boundaries? And what happens if we intentionally go further?
The events described are gruesome, but mainly we are participating in a theatrical experiment in incredibility. Minimal emotional response is required.
With an advance warning that language could prove offensive, this intermission-less mission to highlight violence, depravity, dread and despair for 115 minutes could be accorded praise for bravado—and that’s about it—except for an astonishing performance by John Emmet Tracy. Anyone in the professional theatre community would be well-advised to see Terminus if only to check out the performances of both Brodie and Tracy, but Tracy in particular.
His monologue has one advantage over the two female stories: his character is not so much a victim of circumstance—he transforms as he accepts the devil/evil. There is a slyly amusing tangent; it’s to his credit we chuckle as a man on a murderous rampage confides that he mostly longs to emulate Bette Midler singing the ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings.’ With his sublime agility with words and voice, and a beguiling physical presence, somehow Tracy makes it all darkly amusing. Quite simply, we object less to the rhyming dialogue when he delivers it.
Tracy is one of those rare actors who could recite the phone book—if we still had them. Turns out he has been in eighty stage productions, including playing Hamlet in Japan and performing at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. This relative newcomer to Vancouver theatre will soon become a mainstay for as long as he wants to be here.
-- Paul Durras