L-R Molly Ringwald as Aurora Greenway and Hannah Dunne as her daughter, Emma.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.

by Raphael Badagliacca

The most telling exposition of the different possibilities inherent in theater and film I have ever heard is the audio interview of Robert Altman on the director’s cut of McCabe and Mrs. Miller.  Close-ups and large events like the sudden burning of a building just are not available on the stage.  We may look for deeper drama from the older form, perhaps more intimacy, although I am not sure.  As Altman points out, the playwright only has words to advance the plot and tell the story, which is why it is such a great achievement when it all comes together and moves us.  I doubt anyone in the audience at this staging of “Terms of Endearment” had not seen the film, so the comparison is inevitable.

I also don’t think I was alone in being curious to see how Molly Ringwald would play Shirley MacLaine and if the Jack Nicholson and Debra Winger characters had met their theater counterparts.  I didn’t remember that Jeff Daniels had played Flap Horton, Emma’s husband, or that John Lithgow and Danny Devito had parts in the film.  It’s hard to divorce characters from actors we have seen portray them.  Try reading a book after you’ve seen the movie without imagining the characters as the actors you just saw.

Hannah Dunne as Emma Horton shines.  She wins our hearts, just as the script intends.  Molly Ringwald and Jeb Brown do fine jobs as Aurora Greenway and astronaut Garret Breedlove, whose name says it all, but it’s unfair to compare anyone to Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson in these iconic parts, and so difficult to see these performances as separate from the ones we saw on the screen.  Ms. Ringwald seems most convincing as Aurora when she loudly protests the prospect of becoming a grandmother.  Maybe that’s because we still think of her as a teenager in the Breakfast Club, and a member of the Brat Club playing a part memorialized by the only female allowed into the famous Rat Club.  She voices our protest.  Jack Nicholson racing along the beach in his convertible with MacLaine in tow is Altman’s burning building.

But the story gets across, with it’s sad ending.  We do love Emma Horton for her genuineness.  We know who Garret is and we find his lack of inhibition amusing.  We understand Aurora “has a bug up her ass,” and Ringwald gets that across along with Aurora’s self-centeredness, even in her daughter’s hospital room.  And we tend to agree with Emma’s mother that she might have made a mistake in choosing the Flap actor Denver Milford shows us.

There are other details.  The quick cut as a device works better in the movie. The Renoir on the wall has much greater presence and meaning in the play because of its pure physicality.  All in all, the play is not a distinct enough creation to put the movie out of your mind, but how could it, after all?

The play ends with the script’s sad thud.  In this way it equals the movie.

TERMS OF ENDEARMENT runs through December 11.

By Dan Gordon based on the book by Larry McMurtry and the script by James L. Brooks

Directed by Michael Parva; set designer, David L. Aresenault; lighting designer, Graham Kindred; sound designer, Quentin Chiapetta; costume designer, Michael McDonald; stage manager, Karen S. Fergerson.

With: Jeb Brown, Jessica DiGiovanni, Hannah Dunne, Denver Milford, Molly Ringwald, John C. Vennema.

Terms of Endearment will run 59E59 Theaters in NYC through December 11, 2016.  Tuesday – Thursday at 7PM; Friday at 8PM; Saturday 2PM & 8PM, and Sunday at 3PM.  Please note there is no performance on 11/24.

 Tickets may be purchased by calling 212-279-4200 or at www.59E59.org.