By Andrew Andrews
Eller Freeman wants to “go home,” but the ghosts in her house won’t let her. You see, Eller (played by Deidre O’Connell) has some repressed memories that she needs to uncover first—and take that as literally as you can. The problem is, Eller can’t even remember whom she is sometimes, much less her grandson Jaybo (Reynaldo Piniella), or Jaybo’s “S.O.B.” father, Bones (Mat Hostetler). And she keeps confusing Jaybo’s hobo girlfriend (yes, you read that right) Finch (Vanessa Butler) for her deceased daughter Pinot, which makes Jaybo a little bit frustrated, to say the least. To help jar Eller’s memory, Jaybo has photographs taped to the wall Memento-style, with captions that include the phrase “R.I.P.” or “Alive and Kickin’” as needed. But Eller doesn’t need any photos to remind her whom the ghosts are. Her deceased little sister Annie (Clementine Belber) lives inside the refrigerator. Her mother (Jessie Dean) and father (Luke Leonard) come and go from out of nowhere. And then there’s That Man (Shaun Patrick Tubbs)— the one who shouldn’t be there, but always seems to be.
O’Connell’s portrayal of a feisty woman dealing with senility is engaging, disturbing, humorous and as convincing as can be. Piniella has the role of the loving and indebted young man so down pat, you’ll wonder if he isn’t bringing a depth of personal experience to the character. Hostetler will have you hating Bones one minute and second-guessing yourself the next. Dean, Leonard and Tubbs weave masterfully in and out of the story like the ghosts they pretend to be, while Belber delivers childhood naivete and Butler skillfully balances the hard and soft counterparts of a young woman running from a troubled past to an uncertain future. Director Lucie Tiberghien clearly understands the mood of Gabriel Jason Dean’s script and knows how to extract it from her cast, while D’Vaughn Agu’s set of seven equally-spaced columns perfectly conveys the squalor of the Appalachian south while affording fluid movement from scene-to-scene without configuration or intermission. And although you’ll be too engrossed in the story to notice the lights (Stoli Stolnack) and sound (Megan Culley), their expert timing and placement contribute every bit as much to the success of this production.
Eller’s witty lines about interracial dating (“nobody sees color when the lights are out”), coming of age (“if you’ve bled, you’re old enough to wed”), luck (“blessings don’t need a goddamn disguise”), wisdom (“there are always things in motion beyond your reckoning”) and character (“people aren’t the things you know; people are the things you don’t know”), interspersed with bouts of confusion and anguish, make this the most emotional ride we’ve taken off-off-Broadway since BOUNDLESS Theatre’s production of MUD across East 4th Street last autumn. Is there something inherent to the lives of poor Appalachian families that make for the most dramatic portrayals of the human condition? Check out this show and find out for yourself, then come back here and let us know what you think. Whether you’re as captivated by O’Connell and Piniella’s performance as we were, or the tale of rural destitution is too hard for you to handle, your reviews help others decide whether they should attend, and your ratings help us help you find future productions you’ll love!5
Andrew Andrews attended Terminus at New York Theatre Workshop in Manhattan on Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 7:30pm to write this review.