Hollywood wishes it thought of the story of “Terminus” first: high-speed chases, vengeful demons, smoldering sex—and genuine love that would tug the heartstrings of even the toughest meathead who just came for the special effects.
Courtesy of Dublin’s historic Abbey Theatre, “Terminus” is a verse play in which three unnamed cast members talk their way in and out of our world in the frame of a shattered mirror. Twisted as it is, the story that unfolds through this looking glass, with all of its gory fight scenes and jaw-dropping revelations is deeply human.
It’s three cast members speaking in hard-rhyming verse—on its surface, not the easiest sale. Yet superb acting and vibrant language make this, the third production in ArtsEmerson’s Irish Festival, a must-see in Boston this weekend.
“Terminus” technically takes place in Dublin, but the characters travel far beyond the borders of the city—maybe even this dimension. The character named only as “C” (Declan Conlon) has sold his soul to Satan in exchange for a beautiful singing voice, the catch being that he is too shy to sing. So he becomes a serial killer. Understand that, and the gritty, often hilarious, always rhythmic and rhyming stories that unfold, glide into place like a demon on leathery wings.
Olwen Fouéré’s plays the character called “A,” a mother who risks her hide in an urban underworld to make up for past mistakes with an ease that makes her poetic speech feel natural. Her character stands out as the most original and unexpected, one not so easily defined by run-of-the-mill archetypes. Catherine Walker delivers a stunning, emotionally precise performance, breaching the other side of the spectrum as a young woman articulating (and battling) betrayal and loneliness. Declan Conlon perhaps had the most muddled role to work with—the soul-selling serial killer mentioned above—but like Fouéré and Walker, rivets the audience and completes the story cycle.
Playwright Mark Howe’s verse is to be relished. Blending classical lyric quality and the language of Dublin’s meanest streets, he creates a jarring, captivating tone. Far from the sing-songy rhythms that “rhyme” may bring to mind, Howe’s verse and the Abbey actors’ nuanced delivery create a mesmerizing experience, irreverent and poignant. An excellently crafted story unfolds with drama and humor. Think “Pulp Fiction” meets Sophocles meets Shel Silverstein.
Despite the minimal physical movement onstage, Jon Bausor’s set of mirror shards and fog, as well as Philip Gladwell’s lighting design, which ranges from softly subtle to glaring and offensive, create enough pictures to keep the eyes pleased. Philip Stewart’s sound design significantly adds to the play’s tension establishing a sliding unease right from the opening curtain.
At first, it may seem unwise to recommend a piece this intense on the over-sugared Valentine’s Day weekend, but hear me out: this may just be the perfect night for a couple. You’ll hunch close through the squirmy parts, you’ll come out singing, and there will be plenty to talk about over drinks afterwards. “Terminus” only plays through Sunday, so act fast.