MONTREAL — Mitchell Cushman says he only chooses plays to direct that he wishes he’d written.
“That’s very true about Terminus by Mark O’Rowe. The lyrical writing is somewhere in between the work of Shakespeare and the rapper Eminem,” he says, referring to the play on at Centaur Theatre in Montreal until Feb. 15, being staged by his Toronto theatre company Outside the March.
He co-founded the company with Simon Bloom six years ago, and the two have since cherry-picked scripts that “will offer something that is stimulating, engaging and surprising, and often that means going to some unexpected and dark places.”
In Terminus, three actors (Sarah Dodd, Ava Jane Markus and Adam Kenneth Wilson) tell their Dublin characters’ stories in interwoven, rhyming monologues that spotlight the loneliness and insecurities of a guilt-ridden mother, her grown daughter in search of love and a serial killer who yearns for a singing career.
“I don’t want to go too much into the plot. It’s really a play that’s best experienced without prior knowledge. It deals with overcoming one’s personal demons, and the play goes through some gruesome and heightened activities though it’s all in the imagination. People under 14 shouldn’t see it,” Cushman warns.
The Irish press called it “gripping, grotesque and deliriously good.”
Playwright O’Rowe ensures that the stories are the focus, rather than the set and accessories. He included a ban on props written into the rights to stage his play. This makes it all the more challenging for a director.
“He doesn’t want any literal representation of the story as it’s going on,” Cushman says. “It’s about the words and doesn’t need any props.”
Nick Blais’ set is a non-literal void with the actors flanked by two panels of elastics that suggest wings, evoking the feeling of the performers being elevated on a precipice.
“There’s a lot in the play about living on the edge, being worried about falling and what it means to fall,” he says.
Edgy subjects have given Outside the March a reputation for risk-taking and site-specific staging. They performed Mr. Marmalade, about a child and her abusive imaginary friend in a real kindergarten classroom. That show won the Dora Award for best independent production.
The troupe borrowed a private home for two months where they staged Vitals, about the valour of paramedics, and, since the run could not be extended, they turned it into a movie that’s about to make the rounds of film festivals.
Cushman initially directed Terminus for the 2012 SummerWorks Festival, where it won the prize for production. It was picked up by the Off-Mirvish Second Stage Series and placed the audience onstage with the actors at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto, raking in more awards, including best director.
“Wherever we go with it, we try to engender a sense of intimacy,” he says. This is their fifth production of the show and the audience remains in their usual seats except for the well deserved standing ovation at the end.
Cushman was born one of fraternal triplets in London, England, with theatre “in his blood” as son of a theatre critic. He came to Canada at the age of two, grew up in Toronto, attended the University of King’s College in Halifax and acquired a master’s degree in directing from the University of Alberta.
In 2013, he helped direct The Merchant of Venice at Stratford. He returns there in July to direct John Mighton’s Possible Worlds. Last spring, he headed a production at the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company of David Ives’ New Jerusalem. Montrealers last hosted him as associate director of Seeds at Centaur.
Cushman was in Montreal for four days to set the production of Terminus on its feet and will be back “before the end of the run to catch up with the show.” Tickets are at 514-288-3161.