Arts & Events

“TERMINUS” at the Magic Theatre: a play that will burn itself into your memory

Theatre Review by John A. McMullen II
Monday June 03, 2013 - 03:09:00 PM
Carl Lumbly in Mark O'Rowe's "Terminus" at Magic Theatre.
Jennifer Reiley
Carl Lumbly in Mark O'Rowe's "Terminus" at Magic Theatre.

I go to a lot of plays, 40 per year at least, and I have for years.

There are certain—and few—truly outstanding memorable moments in the theatre.

If you want to have one of the memorable moments, call the Magic Theatre box office today and get a ticket to the first American production of Mark O’Rowe’s “Terminus” before the word gets out. 

It got a unanimous, spontaneous, jump to your feet standing applause at the end of the 1:45 minute no-intermission, hold-your-water performance. I’ll wager no one looked at their watch because they were utterly entranced by the three monologists’ weaving of their rhyming, interwoven stories. 

I ached to get to a keyboard to tell the world about this treasure. It has roots in Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milkwood,” Dante’s “Inferno,” Edgar Alan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Horror, (and Zap Comics, whose hallucinatory graphic tales will resonate if you’re a Berkeley Baby Boomer). 

The power of poetry, of rhyme and cadence has been lost in the theatre excepting The Bard. 

O’Rowe’s verse casts its net and its line and reels you in, the clever internal rhymes brightening the experience. There is much good humor and wit interspersed with the gore. 

It is not for the faint of heart. These are brutal tales, two of which are full of grueling phantasm. 

The title “Terminus” denotes the end of things, personal annihilation, that thing we all have in common. 

The setting is working class neighborhoods in Dublin, a tough place full of thugs and urban horrors. 


In the 1st c. BCE, Quintus Roscius Gallus, the first actor to win knighthood in Rome, spoke of the magic of the actor’s ability to envision an image, express it in words, and plant that same image in the listener’s mind. With just words—about 11,000, I estimate—at a rapid, but fully comprehensible pace, standing in place and using realistic expression as if the words were just coming to them, our triad flings image after image which rivets us to their stories. Their Irish accent helps soften the blow and gives naturalness to the poetic nature of the piece. There is a touch of the bard performing for the king and court in antiquity, and how a lengthy tale in rhythm and rhyme would hold an audience spell-bound for hours. 


Stacy Ross, Marissa Keltie, and Carl Lumbly are the performers, and Jon Tracy directs. All consummate theatre artists, they go beyond any performance of theirs which I have previously witnessed. “Witness” is the right word; it’s something you want to be able to say, “I was there, then,” as well as a little of the connotation of being present at a cataclysm. 


It is served up on a jagged pile of coal or shale designed by Robert Brill. It begins with a rumble that builds to a roar which shakes each audience member; there is momentary fear that it would increase beyond endurance, which puts one in the right mind-set for what’s to come. 


One wonders how much Bushmill’s brown liquid O’Rowe consumed to compose this utter masterpiece. 

He says he wrote a few lines every day. There is not a moment or a line amiss. 


I didn’t know anything about it except it was gritty and rhyming, and I prefer to go in cold. 

This is a SEMI-SPOILER ALERT, so for those of you who prefer to be surprised with the story, which in this case I think adds to the wondrous astonishment, STOP READING NOW. 


Three characters: 

A social worker rues her envious sexual betrayal of her daughter, but perhaps redeems herself by working up the courage to confront violence of a proportion unimaginable to the normal person. 

A young and lonely girl who has difficulty connecting with men, goes on an adventure with friends and a new-found potential lover which ends in catastrophe, but resolves through her transmogrification and a tryst with a demon lover. 

A painfully shy man who is hornswoggled by the Devil’s contract takes out his rage on women. 

Tough stuff. 

But a must-see. 

And kudos to Producing Artistic Director Loretta Greco for fighting to get the rights to O’Rowe’s masterwork. 



FLASH: there is a performance of “Terminus” at Laney College on June 8 for those unable to make it to Fort Mason in the Marina district of San Francisco.  


Tickets at / (415) 441-8822 


John A. McMullen II is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area CRITICS CIRCLE, American Theatre Critics, Association, and Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. Editing by E J Dunne.