Get Cultured — November 22, 2016 at 11:50 am

“Terms of Endearment” Plays Like the Greatest Hits of an Outdated Film

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Terms of Endearment is a beloved eighties film that tells the tale of women in the South, finding their place in a man’s world and keeping each other strong through it all. The film went to win its fair share of Academy Awards, and on its way, it managed to achieve a status that was unrivaled in the genre for years. Now, it has made its way onto our stages, bringing another eighties classic with it — Molly Ringwald, the ultimate girl next door. Nostalgia abound, the story is rich and perfect for stage. A domestic drama about a mother and daughter who call each other constantly as they weave through the webs of live. We are seeing this type of drama on Broadway at the moment with “The Humans.” Since the movie came out, plenty of playwrights and films have tackled domestic life in America spectacularly. Plays like “August: Osage County” have brought the genre into modern stages with class and edge. So how does “Terms of Endearment,” as adapted  by Dan Gordon, fit in today’s environment? What does it have to say that’s new? Does the message resonate with us?

It is unfair to compare this piece to the plays that it helped inspire, but the story is now in their world. The tricky things about adaptations is that they could become just a light version of the movie or book. The great thing about them is that they can touch on a whole different theme, one that may have not been important when the work first came out, but now brings a whole fresh aspect to the work. I love the latter ones, making that work of art timeless and always relevant. Sadly, this adaptation is more of the former.

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Playing like a greatest hits compilation from the film, “Terms of Endearment” goes through every big scene, barely connecting them and making the plot paper thin in the process. Relationships are never really built as they go from scene to scene attempting to hit the same beats the actors in the film did. That’s not a terrible thing when you think about the one aspect of the film that doesn’t feel outdated nowadays, which are the performances by that stellar ensemble. The complication that comes with this approach, is the template that already exists and the work in which you will be judged. You have to be up to the task, and this cast is not up to reach those standards.

Molly Ringwald is the clear stand out in the play, shedding her teenage dream persona and becoming a grandmother in the cusp of a mid-life crisis. Unlike her teenage heroes, Aurora is a woman looking for her place in the world once it changes. And while sprinkles of Shirley MacClaine’s performance can be seen, she manages to make the character her own. Jeb Brown as Garrett Breedlove makes every scene he is in enjoyable, bringing a life to the character that others don’t seem to have. The scenes between them are the highlights of this production. The rest of the cast lacked energy, and were more often than not, distracting in their struggle to get the right tone and making us care. The characters are underwritten as we only see little parts of their lives which are not really that important in the grand scheme of the play itself. By the end, the audience doesn’t know how to feel because we have no reason to care about these people, especially the monotone relationship between Emma and Flap. Their situation is not one we explored in any meaningful way, so when Emma dies, we just feel for the mother. A devastating scene reduced to a moment that passes way too quickly.

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I have to admit to being disappointed with this production on almost every level. Most shows I see in this theater are technically impressive, but I can’t say the same here. The stage felt too busy, not because there was a lot on it, but because the way it was divided. It felt uncomfortable. The transitions between scenes were sloppy and unoriginal. The tech team kept bringing the lights down too soon, or too late. I seemed to question why half the things made it there to begin with. Dan Gordon and team could have created an adaptation which felt new and relevant to today. Instead, we were left wondering what was the point of the adaptation.

It might seem harsh, but I can’t recommend this play. There is incredible work being put on stage every day that nobody knows about because it lacks name, but that would be better suited for those looking for how theater can be powerful. It is not cheap to go see a play nowadays, and plays should earn that ticket price. Unless you are looking for a recreation of a work you love, I would say you may want to check what else is out there.

Out of 4 stars:

Stars

*All images via Carol Rosegg

Twisted Talk: Have you seen Terms of Endearment? Have you seen any productions at 59E59 Theaters? Discuss below!

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