The Carolina Theatre of Durham was an excellent venue for Duke Performances‘ two-night presentation of a powerful dramatic work by one of Ireland’s several ferociously good contemporary playwrights. One hundred years after its last tour of the U.S., the Abbey Theatre — Ireland’s national theatre — is back again, and, still keeping to its mission of promoting Irish theatrical and literary culture, is touring a recent play by brilliant youngish playwright Mark O’Rowe.

Mark O’Rowe (b. Dublin 1970) is known for, among other things, the violence of his imagery, and in Terminus, the violence, when it comes, is graphically verbalized. In rhyme. By the time something really grotesque is told, the listener has been lulled by the susurrus rhythmic tide of the rhyming verses, the warning implicit in the coarser rhymes ignored. Our hearts have had time to synchronize to the O’Rowe’s rhythm and pace, and when his dispassionate, resonant words describe passionate acts of lust and killing, the images they evoke course through us with our blood. We have sympathy for these hurting, messy people–for their greed and gullibility, their venial and mortal sins, and their desire to do better — sympathy that comes as easily as breathing, on the waves of O’Rowe’s language. Terminus is a remarkably powerful piece of writing, and the three actors who speak the series of long soliloquies are as dynamic and forceful as the play.

The characters are “A,” Owen Fouéré; “B,” Catherine Walker; and “C,” Declan Conlon. They do not physically interact on the stage, but the characters do interact and crisscross in the stories each tells. The script is like a song in rounds. One person stands up into the spotlight in a stage set of broken shards, and speaks her or his part, while the others crouch motionless in the dark. On the last stanza, another person rises, and her or his first lines interlace with the last by the previous speaker, who then fades into the dark. The stories are stunningly vivid, and the unease we feel at them only increases as the rounds continue, and we begin to realize the relationships among all the tellers, as they root among fact, feeling, philosophy and faith.

Metaphor is a good way, maybe the only way, to talk about unknowable things like, for instance, the precise doings of the Devil, or what happens to souls after death. In this context, it does not seem particularly fantastical that one disembodied soul, a demon now and a quester, would give himself form with white worms, rather like the Invisible Man wrapped himself in gauze, so that he could intervene in fate and catch and cradle a woman fallen from a construction crane before she hit the ground — or that she would love him in her last moments. In O’Rowe’s play, there is no demarcation whatever between literal events happening in the shared physical world, and events — whether internal or far external — that cannot be seen in ordinary life. As told by these three enormously skilled and powerful actors, we are taken to a world whole, one where life’s warp of pain is filled with the weft of consolation.