There’s a fine tradition of contemporary Irish playwrights writing multiple-character, monologue-driven plays, as evidenced by works such as Conor McPherson’s This Lime Tree Bower and more recently Abbie Spallen’s Pumpgirl. But while several of these shows demonstrate a poetic sensibility in their use of language, Mark O’Rowe’s stunning Terminus, presented by the Abbey Theatre as part of the Under the Radar Festival at the Public, takes the conceit a step further by being written in rhyming verse.
The interweaving and often fantastical tales are narrated by nameless characters listed in the program as simply A (Andrea Irvine), B (Eileen Walsh), and C (Aidan Kelly). The relationship of the various stories to one another becomes clear as the play progresses, but each monologue is compelling enough to stand on its own.
Irvine portrays a woman who is trying to help one of her former students, who is about to undergo an illegal and very dangerous late-term abortion. Her deeply rooted emotional connection to her character makes her final monologue of the evening absolutely devastating. Walsh plays a woman who is rescued from certain death by a winged demon made out of worms. She is equally adept at capturing the drolly humorous moments in her speeches and the sad vulnerability that she is also called upon to display. Kelly’s character is a serial killer who traded his soul to the devil for a singing voice that he is too shy to properly showcase. The actor throws himself wholeheartedly into this obvious villain, who is alternately detestable and charming and sometimes both at once.
The three actors stand upon platforms made to resemble shattered glass, with similar reflective set pieces suspended in the air behind them, courtesy of set designer Jon Bausor. Philip Gladwell’s lighting keeps the majority of the stage dark, with individual spotlights revealing the players in turn. A thick blanket of smoke adds to the surreal effect, and captures the light in a beautiful way. In addition, Philip Stewart’s terrific sound design helps to create an ominous atmosphere.
O’Rowe, who also directs, presents highly imaginative scenarios that are simultaneously gritty and tragic. He is careful never to make his use of rhyme seem too sing-songy. Moreover, his talented trio of actors infuses the piece with a specificity of thought and emotion that gives the production a natural flow, while still heightening your awareness of the playwright’s word choices.