Terminus is an emotional tour de force, and while it benefits from the intimacy of its home Next Door at New York Theatre Workshop, it buzzes with the potential as the next great play in the pantheon of American theater, if only given the space. Throughout the performance, I wished that more people were watching; that it could be scaled to fit its vision and capacity. Written by Gabriel Jason Dean, Terminus is the second installment in The Attapulgus Elegies and is directed by Lucie Tiberghien. One feels the alchemy of Attic tragedy with the American theater tradition while watching the action unfold, as timeless themes of shame, legacy, fate, and family are played in the very context of American legacy and reality: racism and segregation. This country was built in enslavement and pain, and while we’d like to imagine it is behind us, buried away and forgotten, Terminus argues we’ve hardly hit a stride in our journey. If we continue in this selective memory--choosing to remember, willing to forget--we will never heal, we will never know ourselves, we will never know one another.
Terminus is set in the fictional Georgia town of Attapulgus, which sits along railroad tracks that lead to Atlanta, and where it snows cotton in the summer. A spectacular Deidre O’Connell plays the aging, white matriarch, Eller, who has posted reminders of truths throughout her house--her daughter is dead, her husband is dead, and her mixed-race grandson Jaybo (the impressive Reynaldo Piniella) is alive and kickin'. Eller even glances in a mirror to know what she looks like and what her name is, but she cannot access certain memories. These memories aren’t posted on the walls but are animated visions of her past, which she engages with as she moves through the present but can never fully reconcile. Are these delusions brought on by illness or memories fighting to be remembered? They are both.
What has Eller done that she cannot admit to herself? Will Eller be able to continue on if or when she does? Will her relationship with the loyal, loving Jaybo endure? To explain the plot would be to diminish the mastery of it and the motifs and repetitions, but believe me when I say, you will leave the theater in deep reflection and shaken to the core.
The dramaturg, Gabrielle Randle, repeats “reckoning” in her introduction and there isn’t a better word to encapsulate this work: “Terminus is a story about having to reckon with what we have become. A reckoning, in one sense of the word, is the settlement of a bill or account. A reckoning is an interaction that is both relational and transactional. The refusal to reckon with the past has the capacity to manifest in more visceral ways, ways that cause physical and psychic (rather than monetary) imbalances.”
Go reckon with Terminus.