I’ve never read Larry McMurtry’s novel Terms of Endearment, so I don’t which parts playwright Dan Gordon used for his stage adaptation. But since I know James L. Brooks’ film of the book—which swept the 1983 Oscars—pretty well, it’s striking how many of the best lines in this alternately sardonic and sentimental comedy-cum-tragedy about the volatile relationship between a headstrong widow and her only daughter are taken directly from the screen version.
Of course, in the movie, writer-director Brooks had such acting luminaries as Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson, Debra Winger and Jeff Daniels—all at their considerable best—at his disposal. Their long shadows unfortunately hang over the stage version of Terms, efficiently directed by Michael Parva and tidily if a bit too obviously adapted by Gordon.
This is not to blame the very capable actors: Molly Ringwald is, like MacLaine, a simultaneously appealing and exasperating matriarch Aurora Greenaway; Hannah Dunne gives feisty daughter Emma a tangy Texas twang a la Winger, but smartly never apes her outright; Jeb Brown treads lightly around the scene-stealing Nicholson performance as the aging but still womanizing astronaut Garrett Breedlove; and Denver Milord makes a likable Flap, Emma’s put-upon husband, who was so memorably played by Jeff Daniels.
But even with such solid acting, whenever the all-time classic dialogue tumbles out of the characters’ mouths—Aurora (“Why should I be happy about being a grandmother??!!”), Garrett (“If you wanted to get me on my back, all you had to do was ask”); and Emma (“I don’t give a shit, mother, I’m sick”)—anyone with passing familiarity with the movie will miss the legendary spins put on it by MacLaine, Nicholson, Winger, et al. It earns the tears it gets at the end, but this Terms of Endearment sits uneasily between the screen and the stage.
Terms of Endearment
Adapted by Dan Gordon; directed by Michael Parva
Performances throough December 11, 2016
59e59 Theatres, 59 East 59th Street, New York, NY
Photo credit: Carol Rosegg