Rhymin' Through the Ruins: Playwright Mark O'Rowe Rhymes While Spiraling Through Horror and Decay in Terminus

Now that most poets aren't using rhyme anymore, it makes sense that a playwright should pick up that cherished old literary device. And Mark O'Rowe does exactly that in Terminus, now being produced by convergence-continuum.

But these ain't no "moon/June" rhyme schemes. O'Rowe piles internal rhymes one on top of the other, creating ever-cresting waves of startling and often repulsive graphic images. Built around three characters named A, B and C, the play comprises intersecting monologues that all occur on the same troubled night in and around Dublin, Ireland.

Perhaps inspired by Irish mysticism (and Irish whiskey), O'Rowe introduces us to A, a middle-aged woman and emergency hotline operator who's dealing with a caller in need of a late-term abortion; B, a young woman out for fun with friends who drunkenly climbs a construction crane and falls from it into a dream/nightmare; and C, a seemingly bashful fellow who turns out to be a homicidal monster.

As they each take turns describing their activities that night, the world the playwright weaves becomes dark and dense. Internal rhymes bang and slide into each other with defiant purposefulness, like bumper cars operated by manic but highly skilled drivers. To wit, C describes his knife-wielding run-in with some hoodlums on the street:

"Number one, I split from crown to chin. He screams and, relishing the din, I hew number two across the throat and gloat as he gouts arterial spray and flays and, Jaysus, pirouettes as jets of blood are around him, like some kind of fountain."

Gaily splashing in equal parts of innards, plasma, excreta and black humor, O'Rowe turns nighttime Dublin into the seventh circle of Hades. Well-meaning A tracks down the abortion seeker, whom she thinks is a former student of hers named Helen, and finds her. Unfortunately, Helen is under the influence of Celine, the leader of a lesbian abortion ring that uses sharpened broom handles for their surgical procedure.

Meanwhile, B is falling from the crane but she is swooped up, Superman-style, by an angel-demon whose face is made up of wriggling worms because he's a dead soul who made a pact with Satan to become a stud through song. But he got screwed by the fine print and is now looking for his "host" to give him "a reprimand way beyond his mortal comprehending." Turns out the demon is actually quite curious and compassionate, and he takes B on a whirling flight through tunnels and crawlspaces.

As for C, he's also made a deal with the devil, giving him a resplendent singing voice that moves people to tears. Unfortunately, he also has a penchant for disemboweling his romantic female conquests. There is a joke about Bette Midler and "Wind Beneath My Wings" that is at once creepy and priceless.

The fact that so many overtly cinematic scenes work well is a tribute to the richly layered writing of O'Rowe and director Clyde Simon's talented cast: Lucy Bredeson-Smith as A, Rachel Lee Kolis as B and Dana Hart as C. This is more classic storytelling than drama, and each of the actors brings a distinctive feel to their segments.

Bredeson-Smith's A is angular and intense as she tracks hapless Helen, tries to avoid Celine, and thinks about her own daughter, from whom A is estranged, since mom was bedding the girl's boyfriend. As B, Kolis is saddled with the most fantastical story line and does the most with it, convincingly relating how she warms up to the demon. She fashions a lovely, lyrical island of dreams and memories amid the mayhem: "...in bed with my mother that time with the cream and the cheeses and the peaches — Jesus! —watching Beaches...".

Dana Hart uses his muscular vocal musicality to fine effect as C, shuffling shyly at one point and then erupting in rage as he battles his own unseen demons. When Hart is in control of the rapidly tumbling words, as when he orders a galaxy of treats from a gas station attendant, his character takes flight.

This is a huge, sleek shark of a play that has to be constantly moving forward, continually accelerating, otherwise the rhymes can begin to feel forced. And unfortunately that's what happens in the last 10 minutes of this nearly two-hour production, when Hart's lines come a bit haltingly, hit a series of air pockets, and begin to dangle perilously in the air. Suddenly, so close to the end, the audience is wrenched out of the disturbing yet enticing phantasmagoria. The word saloon's fluorescent lights snap on, bright and unforgiving, and we stumble out a bit embarrassed.

Hey, this isn't an easy script to deliver, and chances are opening night glitches will be smoothed over quickly. But even with occasional wrinkles, O'Rowe's wordplay and intersecting monologues rivet the attention in a way few other plays ever attempt to do.


Through December 20, produced by convergence-continuum at The Liminis, 2438 Scranton Road, Tremont, 216-687-0074.

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Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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