An Interview with Tom Story

Hot on the heels of last year’s Moth, DC actor-turned-director Tom Story reflects on returning to 2ndStage to bring Mark O’Rowe’s dark Irish play Terminus to the stage—“The most perverse play to schedule at the holidays ever.” Studio Theatre’s Literary Director Adrien-Alice Hansel caught up with Tom during the first week of rehearsals. ’There’s some talk of Shakespeare, some talk of the Devil, a little reflection on directing rhyming verse, and his insights on the process of creating truthful work on the stage as both an actor and director.


Terminus is the story of a single night in and around Dublin of a former school teacher turned crisis hotline volunteer, a lonely young woman who happens to be the aforementioned teacher’s estranged daughter, and a painfully shy serial killer who has sold his soul to the Devil so that he can sing.

But the thing about this play is really its form—it’s written in violent, vivid, and vulgar rhyming verse and told entirely in interlocking monologues. It is a feat of storytelling, and although unspeakably horrific things occur on this particular night, none of these events occur on stage—rather, our three characters describe in rhyming, beat-like verse, the unspeakable and the sublime.


Exactly, yes. I think O’Rowe is writing about a kind of isolation that’s particularly contemporary, and he’s getting at it through the way he uses language. I think O’Rowe is saying that people in our cities are lost to each other, desperate to try to make connections, but ultimately thwarted by modern life. One way to look at the piece is with the metaphor of Dublin—or any large city for that matter—as Hell, and that somehow this isolation and desperation allows the Devil to walk among us.

And further, I think the form of the piece itself reflects that theme. We have access to any visual world we want—from Christopher Nolan movies where we witness new and previously unimaginable worlds in IMAX, to actual news footage of car wrecks and plane crashes, to jets flying into towers that crumble to the ground before our eyes on CNN. We have become a culture that is just saturated with the visual. But Mark O’Rowe spins out a story without any visuals at all—Terminus is storytelling in its most primitive form. This tale is as violent as any Terminator film or 9/11 documentary, but it exists solely in that great Irish oral tradition. And what in previous incarnations of this storytelling tradition might seem folksy or colloquial, in O'Rowe's hands is modern and fervent and…just thrilling.


You really do have to treat the text like verse, like Shakespeare—lean into the rhythm, trust the rhyme, and pay a lot of attention to the contrasts in the language. It’s going to be a technical feat. Obviously this play then requires actors with verbal, vocal skills, and vivid imaginations. And a strong stomach.

And I’ve got some great people on my team. I’ve been following Nanna Ingvarsson’s work over the years and I’m so thrilled to get to work with her. I just met Katie Ryan—I saw her in a directing scene last year, and was taken with her talent and appealing ease with language. Dylan Myers blew me away with a videotaped audition. Dylan was in Mojo here at 2ndStage in 2010, which my boyfriend saw and said was brilliant. Well, he actually said he was jealous of him, which is one of the really great compliments an actor can give another actor.


Yes, of course. It’s very very simple. Which means it’s tremendously hard to pull off. When I was conceiving this play, dreaming of the design, I looked up the definition of terminus. I brought these definitions to my designers, and they informed everything we came up with for the physical production.


1. A final point in space or time

2. The end of a railroad or other transportation route (British)

3. Figure of a human bust ending in a square pillar from which it appears to spring

I don’t know. There’s something literal and poetic about all of these—the set is based on an abstracted, essentialized train station. These people are dealing with death in surprising and visceral ways. And I love the image of actors as rooted but animated statues. O’Rowe has given us a play that darts around Dublin, high into the sky, deep into the earth, to the countryside and back again—and he’s made it almost impossible for any of the actors to move while delivering their stories to their audience. It’s terrifying.

So my challenge—but my joy, really—is to keep the storytelling focused, compelling, varied, and emotionally full. And to integrate the rhyme and rhythm into the play. And make it seem as real and as horrifying as the creepiest and truest horror story that you ever stayed up late to hear.