TERMINUS by Mark O’Rowe (Outside the March/Mirvish). At the Royal Alexandra Theatre (260 King West). Runs to December 9. $69, same-day rush $29. 416-872-1212. See listing. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN

Terminus, Mark O’Rowe’s acid-tinged look at three people suffering one long night of the soul in Dublin, crackles with theatricality, rich language and irresistible storytelling.

Staged by Outside the March and presented by David Mirvish as the first in the admirable Off-Mirvish season, the production is as exciting as it was in its lauded SummerWorks premiere.

Its three characters, identified by alphabet letters, are filled with despair in varying measure. At first their stories exist independently of one another, but slowly we realize the prickly, fated connections that hold them together.

A (Maev Beaty), a former teacher and current volunteer social worker, fears that a pregnant ex-student of hers, Helen, is about to be beaten up by Helen’s lesbian partner.

The unhappy B (Ava Jane Markus) goes off for a pub evening with friends she doesn’t especially want to be with, finds herself at the top of a construction crane and ends up in the arms of a wormy demon.

When we first meet C (Adam Kenneth Wilson), he seems a shy, nerdy guy who has to push himself to meet women he takes the Faustian route to get his wishes, but the hoped-for results aren’t forthcoming.

The clever script, eloquent and persuasive despite its hard-hitting and often uncomfortable subject matter, is a wonder to listen to (and I’m sure difficult to memorize). Jam-packed with double and triple rhymes, its poetic prose is equal parts fanciful versifying, grim humour and snarly street language.

The cast bites into the text with gusto. One monologue blends into the next in skilful storytelling as the three transform verbally and physically into other figures in their respective tales.

Wilson’s slicked-down hair becomes more disheveled in each of C’s appearances, that physical wildness a sign of the devil within he’s a lot more dangerous than we first expect, and certainly no one to fool with.

Markus captures B’s life-weary and belligerent attitude, transforming magically into a warmer person when she recites a litany of memories.

Fear and anger blend equally in Beaty’s A, a caregiver who worries about her past errors as much as her present dangers. Moving from insecurity to genuine compassion, Beaty rivets us with A’s journey, maternal in so many different ways.

Director Mitchell Cushman’s exciting production places the audience on the stage of the Royal Alexandra Theatre and the trio of actors at the stage’s lip, the expanse of the elegant red-velvet Alex auditorium behind the three. The choice is a fascinating, intentionally disorienting placement of viewers and performers.

The staging captures the haunted quality of these people’s lives, for we look beyond them into the darkness of the Royal Alex auditorium, whose lights come up at one telling point in the story.

Nick Blais’s lighting casts their spooky shadows onto the ceiling and the balconies at times he echoes the characters’ links by silhouetting a figure next to another who is in full illumination. The set he’s created, a pair of black barriers that cocoon the characters, resembles demonic wings that could comfortably take the three to any of the circles of Hell.

You hope that Terminus, which revels in all sorts of physical and emotional torment, will end on a note of salvation. That doesn’t happen, but there’s some balm, some salving of the pain.

In O’Rowe’s world, that’s enough to allow us to continue living and hoping.



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