"It's a voice I'm certain I recollect, someone I taught in school, I suspect, then am sure of. Yes. A girl named Helen I had for maths. A fucking mess. Though that's a tale best told at another time. For now, she's saying she needs an abortion. Fine. I ask her how many months she's gone, she says 'Nine.'"
---Character A, from Mark O'Rowe's "Terminus"
Read that out loud and you will pick up the lilt of the internal rhymes. Mark O'Rowe's one hour forty-five minute (no intermission) "Terminus" consists of three characters giving ten to fifteen minute monologues, one character following the other, all told in what sounds like verses from a Poetry Slam. It's not an easy evening. You need every ounce of concentration just to make sense of what you are watching and hearing. But give it awhile, because once the story takes on a form you may find yourself, as we were, spellbound.
Things will begin to pop into your head. We thought of Vikram Seth's magnificent "The Golden Gate," a novel about San Francisco written completely in sonnets. The connection is how something can be at once so literary and full of heart.
The three actors (Stacy Ross, Marissa Keltie and Carl Lumbly) are nothing short of brilliant, which is admittedly an easy word to use. So consider this: since they never speak at the same time, nor do they interact with each other, it is a necessity for each character's next monologue to continually one-up the previous one, or the show will drag. It never does. Ross's secret guilt gives her surprising strength, Keltie's innocence brings her to the strangest love this side of Star Wars, and Lumbly is just plain terrifying. Each actor has a reserve, and that reserve has another reserve under it. By the end of the evening they have used themselves up. You find yourself wondering how they will do this show every night for the length of the run.
But after the show, Lumbly said: "I can't wait for tomorrow."
It's dark and smoky in the theater, but this makes sense since we are apparently in Hell. Robert Brill's coal-mine like set and Gabe Maxson's smoke and low light seem perfectly reasonable when faced with issues of life, death, afterlife, monsters, rape, worms, payback, Bette Midler and a goodly collection of Irish guilt.
You won't see another show like "Terminus" this season. But after Opening Night there are only 17 performances left. If you love great acting and writing, and we know you do, please don't miss this one.
RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG!
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Terminus" Four Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. Each actor plus director Jon Tracy earn one star each, while the Bangle goes to Artistic Director Loretta Greco for having the courage (and, apparently, a supportive Board of Directors) to mount this peformance. "Terminus" makes you squirm. And stretch. Did we mention squirm? We can't stop thinking about it.
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason Center, Building D
Through July 15