You won’t hear the word AIDS in Paul Selig’s one-act “Terminal Bar” at the Cast Theatre. You also won’t hear the phrase nuclear war .
Selig is working in the dystopian tradition of science fiction, in which the characters are virtually the only people alive and the drama remains topical without ever identifying the topic.
Selig’s one-word metaphor is simply plague , and it’s only one indication of a young writer who can make sound artistic decisions. And he does it while conjuring up some emphatically loony dialogue and creating emotional tides that defy charting.
“Terminal Bar” is a play that knows how to set us down into a mystery--the character kind, not the genre kind--while not being overly concerned that we find our way out. That’s clear from the prologue, which introduces us to Martinelle (Susannah Blinkoff), a hooker waiting in the Terminal Bar for her pimp to get off the phone; Holly (LaRue Stanley), a Texas woman leaving her embalmer husband, and Dwayne (Brent Hinkley), a puzzled New York teen-ager locked out of his dead parents’ apartment by their maid.
There’s a sense, accented by Steven T. Howell’s angular lights and set and Michael Panes’ overly portentous synthesized music, that these people aren’t going to escape the plague, but that it will be interesting to watch them try.
In this, Selig only partly succeeds. It is a back-breaking stretch, even within the play’s crazed environment, to believe that Holly would make it--or want to make it--to New York, where Dwayne and Martinelle are the only ones left. Once Holly is there, Selig hasn’t figured out how she clashes with the hooker in something more than the standard street-crawler-meets-hick encounter. Martinelle calls Holly “a deal,” but that is about as fresh as the exchange gets.
The language really comes alive in the monologues. (What is a bar play, even a dystopian one, without monologues?) Holly talks fancifully about how she got impregnated while floating in a swimming pool. Dwayne relates a strange encounter with a plague-ridden man in the bathroom. Martinelle explains her reluctance to deal with the fact that her pimp has been on the phone--and dead--for a week. It’s here that Selig stylishly prods the end-of-the-road themes of conventional bar plays into areas full of the imagery of late 20th-Century dread.
That imagery is extended by director Kenneth Biller’s cast, whose faces are right out of today’s urban-based, caustically paranoiac underground comics. Hinkley’s Dwayne is both affecting and absurd, with a face full of braces and amazement at this new adult world of death. Stanley calms her Carole Cook routine of playing to the crowd, and brings some moments of real tenderness to Holly. Martinelle’s heart isn’t even plated with gold, but Blinkoff makes sure she has a sense of humor.
At 804 N. El Centro Ave., Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7 p.m ., indefinitely. Tickets: $12-$15; (213) 462-0265.