Thursday, February 10, 2011

End of the line

Are we dead yet?  The cast of Terminus.
You keep thinking it has to be a joke.

You think that when the heroine pops out the eyeballs of the crazed lesbian abortionist who's brandishing a sharpened spear.  And you think it when she wakes up (after having been knocked out cold with a folding chair) to find a guy masturbating over her, ready to shoot.  You think it when the other leading lady reaches orgasm with a flying demon made of worms.  And you really, really think it when the serial killer is strung up by his intestines (which have been pulled out through his arsehole), and swings face-down from a construction crane, singing (I'm not kidding) "The Wind Beneath My Wings."

But it seems it's not a joke.  Indeed, it's deadly serious (even though the audience every now and then breaks out into guffaws).  "It" is Terminus, a new play by Mark O'Rowe, in a touring production by Dublin's Abbey Theatre, now at the Paramount as part of ArtsEmerson's Irish Festival.

And what I can say but - either you want to stay very far away - or you don't want to miss it.

The title alone tells you that Terminus is about the ultimate, the finale, the end of line.  And the play certainly stands as the ne plus ultra of pretentious bad taste.  It's a braided trio of monologues about horror and death, and hell and more horror and death, and more horror and death and hell.  Did I mention mental suffering and abject squalor and physical torment?  Maybe I did already.

And what's more, Terminus is also a rap.  Yes, hipsters - Irish rap!!!  Okay, it doesn't have an actual beat, but playwright O'Rowe is constantly bustin' rhymes of the "Christ/shite" and "fuck/truck" variety during his lurid descriptions of urinating lesbians and grotesquely deformed fetuses (since he keeps no steady rhythm going, however, this is pretty easy).  Yes - imagine the love child of Harlan Ellison and Dean Koontz working with Dr. Dre, and you've got Terminus.

Inevitably, you also find yourself thinking, "This actually could be great if it were made into a midnight movie, and people could throw rubber eyeballs at the screen."  Oddly enough, it's also so pretentious that it might work as an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.  On rollerblades.  Could somebody please forward the script to Sir Andrew?

Although I know what you're thinking - Jesus H. Christ, Garvey, can't you tell you're inside a living graphic novel?  (Yes, I can.)  And that the playwright is simply pushing said form's adolescent tropes to their logical, if extreme, conclusion?  (Again, ditto, yup, I get it.)  Only the thing is - I'll just leave all that bull to the pop critics, if you don't mind.  I've got real novels to read and real art to review.  I don't have time to watch Junior doodle cartoons of worms eating corpses all day.

Because as "drama" - oh, God, where to begin with Terminus?  I mean,  please - it's so dull. Its Twilight-Zone-level irony never varies, and its droning tone never wavers; you could literally doze off to its background Vault-of-Horror hum (and one or two people around me did just that).   I knew from the Abbey's tour of Playboy of the Western World a few years ago that this troupe was a bit over-rated, but I had no idea they were such self-serious dorks.  You keep waiting for some slightly arch phrasing, some flicker of an eyebrow, to nudge the whole thing into the hilarious parody of current pop culture it's screaming out to be.  But no such luck; the stark lighting, the smashed set, the grim, downer line readings - they're taking this thing (and themselves) very, very seriously.  And so I just don't want to acknowledge the director or designers or even the actors - they may be taking themselves seriously, but that doesn't mean I have to.

And you don't have to, either.  Of course it would be rude to actually throw rubber eyeballs at the stage, but you can still do that mentally.  And to be honest, theatre geeks may not want to miss this show; it has the aura of legend about it, as Carrie and Moose Murders did.  People may be bragging that they saw it for years to come.

On the other hand, you'll never get these two hours of your life back.

So think carefully before you decide.


  1. A week ago when a production is closed seems like EONS, doesn't it? Might as well be a lifetime. But I'm with you on Terminus- this play was just downright bizarre and I've been trying to figure out why it has been so successful elsewhere. All the pieces just don't fit. I'm still struggling. I mean, I don't think it's the WORST thing I've seen, but it's certainly the lowest of the dozen or so shows I've been too this year, and much more memorably bad then anything I can recall in recent memory. I mean, to be really truly bad is about more then just craft- you can see bad theatre anywhere, take your pick of dozens of low-fi community productions of musicals any given night of the week. (Memo to aspiring producers: if you don't have Mama Rose, DON'T DO GYPSY!!!!) or syrupy, heartfelt, sentimental productions of Crimes of the Heart, (a play I rather like which seems to get slaughtered regularly) but really, truly bad seems to require something more, which is maybe why the whole Spiderman Musical fiasco seems to loom so large in the mind of the public. You'd think with all that talent and money at a big theater, and locally of course I'm thinking of ART or the Huntington that everything they did would be good, and thus so with the Abbey but that's not the way these things work. Ouch. This was bad. Of all the things to pick to represent your National Theatre....

  2. Your last comment I think is a telling one - why would you EVER tour Terminus? That's what is scary. As I commented elsewhere, their Playboy of the Western World from a few years back was weak, and friends have told me a recent appearance in Edinburgh was likewise turgid. Something tells me the Abbey has lost its way.

  3. Why ever? Three actors. One set. Why not? It beats a big complex show for keeping your company in the public eye. I've found the reception on Terminus seems to be right down the middle- I know one person who really liked it who is an otherwise reasonable, intelligent person who has opinions I value, and another who said they fell asleep watching it. On some level, I can see the play functioning as a metaphor for the thought that love and relationships aren't always as simple as they appear. But on another I just think the whole thing was silly, and worse then a cartoon. It's the latter which really sticks with me. FYI, I think it's hard to judge the Abbey or artists involved from this, it's one show. And for what it's worth I think the people of the show (actors, designers, etc.) did as good a job as possible with terrible, awful, lousy material. As a working freelancer, I can understand that sometimes you do stuff which looks great on paper... and just doesn't work out. Paychecks and a nice credit count for a lot. We've all got a few shows we leave off our resume and would rather nobody ever mentioned again.

  4. Ah, but we're talking three shows, not one - or at least I'm talking three shows, and three shows that they toured. I repeat, I have a bad feeling about them. Unlike you, I haven't met anyone who liked it. Like you, I do know of people who slept through it - indeed, I heard two nearby patrons snoring loudly as it progressed.