When the movie Terms of Endearment came out in theaters in 1983, it was by all measures an incredibly successful film. Based on the book by Larry McMurtry and with ascreenplay by James L. Brooks, it featured a who’s who of award-winning actors, including Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, and Jack Nicholson. Now the story comes to a new home, 59E59 Theaters, for its first U.S. stage production.
Adapted for the stagve by Dan Gordon, Terms of Endearment tells the story of sweet Texas rose Emma, her critical and tough-as-nails mother, Aurora, and the men who lift them up and let them down.
The stage cast is full of familiar faces, headed up by the striking Molly Ringwald, the John Hughes muse who personified 80s teen culture in films like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. Here she puts on a hilariously snobbish New England accent and steely persona to become a woman who is at turns domineering, flirtatious, and sympathetic in the grief for all she has lost.
At first she seems completely unlikeable, almost to the point of being abusive in her criticism toward Emma, but at the story goes on and the years pass, she comes into focus as a woman who loves deeply but is also bridled by her expectations. The problem with being so critical about frivolous things is that when real criticism is deserved it doesn’t land with the impact it requires. It’s a complex role and Ringwald does it proud. But she doesn’t do it alone.
Jeb Brown plays the astronaut, Garrett, and he makes an instant impression on both the audience and Aurora. He’s an utter cad, always chasing after younger women and the next good time, but he’s also undeniably charming. His footloose and fancy-free philosophy couldn’t be more at odds with Aurora’s staid dignity. For every joke he cracks, no matter how flirtatious or fact-based, she has a reason to be doubtful. Yet when the two get together, doubt turns to delight. Between Brown’s charisma, Ringwald’s gravitas and their chemistry together, this is a production not to be missed.
Hannah Dunne, a familiar face to Mozart in the Jungle viewers, takes on the role of Aurora’s beleaguered daughter, Emma. Where Aurora wears silk, Emma opts for flannel. She hitches her post to Flap—a nickname Aurora cannot abide—a dismissive boy who becomes a dishonorable man, but that doesn’t stop them from having three kids together, kids that Emma cares for nearly singlehandedly while Flap is off gallivanting inappropriately with his university students.
The problem with Dunne’s Emma being so unflappable and willing to go without is that the performance requires a kind of subtlety that doesn’t quite come out—at least not farther back in the audience. She seems uniformly sweet, uniformly forgiving, even when she and her children have been done wrong. As for Flap, played by Denver Milord, there is little to recommend him. In the beginning, he comes off as a bit sexist and certainly inconsiderate, but things just get more unforgivable as time goes on.
Jeb Brown and John C. Vennema
Director Michael Parva, who has worked with playwright Dan Gordon before, and set designer David L. Arsenault, have worked together to craft a graceful, flowing, nearly seamless production. However, for those who have never seen the 1983 film, the mother–daughter relationship is the entire story. You can sense Emma’s discontent with Flap, but not really get the full idea of just how much of a snake he really is. You can hear that Emma’s son Tommy’s anger at his mother is deep and hot, but not feel how terribly it stings.
Unfortunately, due to space and time constraints, there are some really powerful moments in the film that simply don’t happen in this version. It’s a disappointment, but not enough to keep from recommending this production, which can still make inspire laughs and move people to tears—as it did most of the audience judging by the sound of sniffles that filled the room. Jessica DiGiovanni as Patsy and the Nurse and John C. Vennema as Doctor Maise round out the cast, both of them lending depth and humor to their smaller but important parts. Vennema in particular plays things to full humorous effect.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Top photo: Molly Ringwald and Hannah Dunne
Terms of Endearment
Directed by Michael Parva
Adapted by Dan Gordon
Through December 11, 201