Words, words, words! Tongues get tied and language pulls a muscle in Terminating, a work by Tony Kushner (Angels in America), mounted in Toronto for the first time by Jordan Pettle. Inspired by Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 75,” this 30-minute play is classic Kushner in its robust tirades against everything from human ambivalence and existential paradoxes to window curtains and the smell of anal sex.
At the centre of the production is Michael Healey’s tour de force turn as Hendryk, a loquacious gay neurotic who demands that his lesbian therapist Esther (played by Shannon Perreault) sleep with him. Healey handles Kushner’s linguistic somersaults with comic panache; he’s a kind of lovable lout stuck in his own self-perpetuated crises. He is matched by Perreault who presents the cold facade of an annoyed practitioner but, in a moment of revelation, delivers a heartbreaking monologue expressing her own rage and sorrow.
It’s quite a feat how Kushner, aided by Pettle and company, has been able to cram so much into a short half-hour that feels full and satisfying. Kushner does have a tendency to recycle some of his dramatic structures and characters from his other works (Hendryk seems like a reworked version of Louis from Angels, and elements of Esther would show up again in the titular character of Caroline, Or Change); however, it’s forgivable considering how fascinating and carefully drawn his repertoire of characters are. This is a fine production of a little-seen work by one of today’s most accomplished playwrights.
Photo courtesy of summerworks.ca.