Jason Zinoman, interview on Terminus by Mark O’Rowe, in New York Times (13 Jan. 2008)

[Details: Jason Zinoman, ‘For Him, the Devil Is in the Rhymes’, [interview with Mark O’Rowe], in New York Times (13 Jan. 2008); incls. photo of Andrea Irvine, Aidan Kelly and Eileen Walsh in Terminus, the new play by Mark O’Rowe.]

THE Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe cuts to the chase. Best known for writing Howie the Rookie, a darkly comic blood-and-guts crime story told with racing momentum that made its debut at the Bush Theater in London in 1999 and came to New York two years later, he writes brutal plays that are so packed with energy and verve that they can leave an audience dizzy.

“Description drives me mad”, Mr. O’Rowe said in a recent interview at the offices of the Public Theater. “A man walks into a room, and as soon as he says a line, I have a picture of him already. You don’t need more. That’s my philosophy.”

His new play, Terminus, is an audacious drama of interlocking monologues that can be seen at the Public as part of the Under the Radar festival through Jan. 20. In it Mr. O’Rowe, 37, adds an unusual twist to his already distinctive style: rhyme.

“I wrote a couple lines one day, and there was some rhyming going on”, he said with typically unpretentious casualness. “So I thought',O.K., lets keep it up.’”

The result is a dense, musical brand of colloquial poetry that sounds like a mix between Jay - Z and Tom Wolfe on a gonzo riff: “We go, see the slo-mo ebb-and-flow of pub-spill; the mill, the babble, the rabble or wobbling waywards.”

Over the course of a year Mr. O’Rowe wrote the drama in his spare time while working on a screenplay that he says did not inspire him. Terminus has the feel of a labor of love, Mr. O’Rowe following his impulses wherever they might lead. In this case it was into a supernatural narrative told by three characters: a lonely young woman looking for love; her mother, who is seeking atonement; and a serial killer who has sold his soul to the Devil.

Introducing his latest work at a reading uptown last year Mr. O’Rowe explained to a sparse crowd that if he sits down to write a play without any preconceived notions of plot or character, the first thing that usually pops into his head is a sex scene. Then he read a Joycean monologue featuring the image he began writing the play with: a woman falling from a construction crane. What is surprising is not so much that she is saved from certain death by a demon made of worms - the play is Mr. O’Rowe’s most fantastical - but that he then makes love to her with a tenderness that Mr. Rowe is not known for.

“This play felt like an opening up of my world”, Mr. O’Rowe said. “I realized when I wrote about the demon that if you can tell it well enough, you can go anywhere with this. Literally anywhere. That was a real discovery.”

It was not Mark O’Rowe’s dream to be a playwright. Growing up in the workin -class town of Tallaght, the child of a toolmaker and a housewife, he preferred kung fu movies to the theater, which he hardly ever attended. “You couldn’t have set me in front of a drama for love or money’, he said.

That changed when, at the age of 24, he saw the film “House of Games” and joined the generation of young writers who got their start imitating David Mamet, who wrote and directed it. “He seemed very immediate”, Mr. O’Rowe said. “It wasn’t like Shakespeare. It was just, like, three-word sentences.”

From Mamet he found his way to Pinter and then, inevitably, to Beckett, whose novel “Molloy” inspired the structure of “Howie the Rookie”, which received rave reviews in both London and New York.

At the time Mr. O’Rowe seemed to be the latest of a steady influx of precocious young Irish dramatists - among them Martin McDonagh and Conor McPherson - who were inventing a new brand of modern theater based on heightened poetic language. But while Mr. McDonagh and Mr. McPherson have continued to bring high - profile critical hits to New York, Mr. O’Rowe has had only a few obscure New York productions. In Ireland his bleak, all-female “Crestfall”, packed with sex, violence and cruelty, received notoriety, mostly for a scene in which a woman is asked to have sex with a dog. (Abbey Theater subscribers were not amused; there were many walkouts.)

“I always felt that Mark, who is a very unassuming, not very career-oriented guy, deserved a better shot with the New York and American public”, said Mark Russell, who originally presented Howie at Performance Space 122 and is now the curator of the Under the Radar festival. “I didn’t want to lose him to the movies.”

Of course there is the question of how many Irish devils can fit in the New York theater scene. Mr. McPherson has already carved out his niche on Broadway with “The Seafarer”, about a poker game in which Satan holds a formidable hand. When Mr. O’Rowe read that play, he said, he couldn’t help thinking, “Oh no, he’s using the Devil too.”

Mr. O’Rowe has spent most of his career dealing with comparisons to Mr. McPherson, who also got his start writing monologues. But their similarities (same age, small stature and wire - rim glasses) are largely superficial. Where Mr. McPherson’s plays, which portray a melancholy Dublin, are low - key and nostalgic, Mr. O’Rowe’s pocket epics pop with a contemporary energy.

“I think it was Hugh Leonard who said that a literary movement in Ireland is two writers talking to each other”, Mr. O’Rowe said. “There’s so few of us that we are constantly watching each other. We are polite, of course, but I’ve never met two Irish writers who hung out. There’s a nice sense of competition between us.

“I mean, you can’t compete with Conor and Broadway and that kind of thing. But you’re still competing.”

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