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A CurtainUp Review
Terms of Endearment
By Charles Wright

She had made every effort to remain active, to keep open to life, and yet life was beginning to resist her in unexpected ways. Men, some of them decent and good, seemed to march through her life almost daily, and yet they caused so little to stir within her that she had begun to be afraid — not just that nothing would ever stir again, but that she would stop wanting it to, cease caring whether it did or not, or even come to prefer that it didn't.
— Larry McMurtry's description of protagonist Aurora Greenway in the novel Terms of Endearment.
Terms of Endearment
Molly Ringwald and Hannah Dunne (Carol Rosegg)
Molly Ringwald, teen star of 1980s films such as The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, has matured gracefully into middle age and seems to be having a fine old time playing flamboyant widow Aurora Greenway in Dan Gordon's comedy-drama Terms of Endearment. Since her pleasure is contagious, Ringwald is the chief asset of this stage adaptation of the movie that won the 1984 Best Picture Oscar.

Aurora appeared first in a 1975 novel of the same title by Texas author Larry McMurtry. Eight years later, embodied by Shirley MacLaine, Aurora reached a much wider audience in the movie, written and directed by James L. Brooks.

McMurtry's novel is a vivid portrayal of the Lone Star State at the historical juncture when a catastrophe in Dallas was about to catapult native son Lyndon B. Johnson into the highest office of the land. In the novel, Aurora, with her palatial home in the River Oaks section of Houston and her inherited paintings by Renoir and Klee, represents the region's upper crust. Leading a string of rich suitors on a merry chase to the threshold of her bedroom but no further, she's a dazzlingly comic creation.

Brooks reworked McMurtry's material pretty thoroughly, eliminating the novel's sociological intricacy and fabricating a high-toned melodrama with greater focus on the relationship between Aurora and her daughter. He restyled the end in the manner of classic Hollywood tear-jerkers. At Academy Award time, MacLaine and Debra Winger, as daughter Emma, were both nominated for Best Actress Oscars (with MacLaine winning the award). Jack Nicholson, as Aurora's astronaut beau, received the Oscar as Best Supporting Actor.

The movie is filled with memorable exchanges and quotable lines. The most frequently seen clip may be MacLaine erupting in rage, circling a hospital nurses' station like a beast of prey, demanding that the feckless nurses ease her dying daughter's suffering with an overdue dose of morphine. "Give my daughter the shot," she screams. "Give my daughter the shot!"

Gordon's stage version preserves the juiciest lines and most notable sequences from the motion picture (including Aurora's meltdown at the nurses' station). The playwright has streamlined an already streamlined screenplay and, though his script varies at times from Brooks' version of the story, the production feels like a live digest of the movie.

A script with such ironbound associations to a widely loved film is a tough assignment for actors. Jeb Brown as the astronaut is burdened with lines practically trademarked by the idiosyncratic Nicholson— such as: "Well, I'll tell you the truth, Aurora, I don't know what it is, but you do bring out the Devil in me." Brown has appropriate stage presence for the role and sufficient chemistry with Ringwald to make their scenes together effective; but he capitulates throughout to Nicholson-like delivery, as well as Nicholson-like physicality.

Ringwald counteracts the anemia of the enterprise by making Aurora her own in a way that's more McMurtry than MacLaine. She and Hannah Dunne, who plays Emma, invest their duologues with wit, steering the poignant passages clear of mawkishness.

Terms of Endearment is efficiently directed by Michael Parva, with brisk pacing that prevents the most melodramatic moments from being syrupy. David L. Arsenault's scenic design and Graham Kindred's lighting permit the action to bleed cinematically from scene to scene as the characters move from Aurora's house to Emma's and, later in the play, from Houston to Des Moines and back again. Quentin Chiappetta's sound design samples the American songbook to nostalgic effect.

It's natural to wonder what motivates writers and producers to bring to the stage screen properties that are stamped with the personalities of screen stars. At the moment, Classic Stage Company is presenting Tom Schulman's adaptation of his own screenplay Dead Poets Society (Elyse Sommer's review ); but John Doyle has directed the stage version quite differently from the cinematic source. Terms of Endearment seems content to be an attraction for fans of flicks from the 1980s who feel they should see a play while visiting New York.

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Terms of Endearment by Dan Gordon
Based on the novel by Larry McMurtry & screenplay by James L. Brooks
Director: Michael Parva
Cast: Jeb Brown (Garrett); Jessica DiGiovanni (Patsy/Doris/Nurse); Hannah Dunne (Emma); Denver Milord (Flap); Molly Ringwald (Aurora); John C. Vennema (Doctor Maise)
Scenic Design: David L Arsenault
Costumes: Michael McDonald
Lighting: Graham Kindred
Sound Design: Quentin Chiappetta
Production Stage Manager: Rose Riccardi
Running Time: Two hours including an intermission
Presented by 59E59 Theaters
In Theater A, 59 East 59th Street

>From 10/29/16; opened 11/16/16; closing 12/11/16
Reviewed by Charles Wright at November 17th performance

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