Eller (Deirdre O’Connell) is losing her mind, and thus lives in two worlds on stage in “Terminus,” a lyrical, Southern Gothic stew of a play by Gabriel Jason Dean running through March 10 at Next Door at New York Theatre Workshop. In one of her worlds, it is 1994, and Eller, 65, resides in a soon-to-be-condemned shack by the railroad tracks in rural Attapulugus, Georgia with her biracial grandson Jaybo (Reynaldo Piniella), 17, who takes care of her as best he can. The other world is in Eller’s head, populated by family long gone — people whom she abandoned or who abandoned her – a ghastly past full of racism, stifled love, hidden homicide, chanting ghosts, a train-flattened nail in the shape of a cross, a gold-leafed Bible opened to a prophetic page, and a noose.
The challenge of “Terminus” is how to present both worlds crisply and clearly, especially since the four actors portraying living characters – Eller, Jaybo, Jaybo’s deadbeat father Bones (Mat Hostetler), and Finch (Vanessa R. Butler) a female hobo passing through with whom Jaybo becomes enamored — often share the same space with, and talk at the same time as, the four who are portraying ghosts from Eller’s past.
The Monk Parrots production doesn’t completely pull this off; there are uneven performances and sometimes confusing direction. With performers as talented as the veteran Deirdre O’Connell and the up-and-comer Reynaldo Piniella, it shouldn’t be surprising that “Terminus” offers some compelling scenes, and a chilling climactic revelation. It’s stimulating to be reminded yet again of the complex racial history in the South. But the play’s 100 minutes often feel either padded or cluttered with incident.
“Terminus” is the second of The Attapulugus Elegies, the playwright’s ambitious planned seven-play cycle set in this rural area over a period of 20 years, chronicling “the disappearance of a mill town in the foothills of the Appalachians Mountains.” Dean’s project apparently aims to treat Attapulugus like William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, or Horton Foote’s Harrison, Texas. Perhaps Dean and any future director can take inspiration from “The Orphans Home Cycle,” which ran Off-Broadway in 2009 — a marathon of nine of Foote’s plays focusing on one family in Harrison over some three decades. Foote had written the plays separately over many years; they were produced previously, but had received little attention. For “The Orphans Home Cycle,” they were each trimmed to under an hour and put together in three evenings of three plays apiece. The result was showered with awards and with affection.
Click on any photograph by Maria Baranova to see it enlarged.
Monk Parrots at Next Door at NYTW
Written by Gabriel Jason Dean
Directed by Lucie Tiberghien
Composer and sound designer Paul Brill, set design by d’Vaughn Agu, lighting design by Sarah Stolnack, costume design by Ari Fulton
Cast: Deirdre O’Connell, Reynaldo Piniella, Mat Hostetler, Vanessa R. Butler, Jessie Dean, Shaun Patrick Tubbs, Luke Leonard, Clementine Belber
Running time: 100 minutes with no intermission
Terminus is scheduled to run through March 10, 2018