When it comes to adapting a pre-existing property for a different medium, there are two questions that need to be answered immediately: "Why should this exist in a new way?" and "How should the adapter open it up for the latest form?" In the case of Dan Gordon's Terms of Endearment, based on Larry McMurtry's beloved novel and James L. Brooks' even more cherished film, neither of these questions seems to have been asked, and the result, on stage at 59E59 Theaters, is not pretty.
A quintessential cinematic tearjerker, Terms of Endearment follows two decades in the lives of Aurora (Molly Ringwald) and Emma (Hannah Dunne), a mother and daughter duo who couldn't be more different, yet who share a common goal: to find a love that will last a lifetime. Right out of high school, Emma falls for and marries Flap Horton (Denver Milord), whose callousness rubs Aurora the wrong way from the very beginning. But the widowed Aurora has romantic issues of her own, being involved in a cat-and-mouse game with Garrett Breedlove (Jeb Brown), the astronaut who has moved in next door. All of the relationships are put to the test when a health crisis works its way into their existence.
Gordon has neither opened up the source material for the theatrical medium, nor managed to prove why the work needs to exist in play form. There's a laziness that exists throughout as Gordon ultimately creates a crib sheet edition of Terms of Endearment, hitting all of the original plot points and using a significant chunk of Brooks' dialogue, but not in service of saying anything new. The stage production never even shakes the feeling of trying to be as cinematic as the original, with some scenes only lasting a few seconds before fading into new ones.
The bizarre physical production only adds to the problems. Scenic designer David L. Arsenault attempts to combine several different locations into one unchanging unit set, but his creation is cheap-looking and confusing as a result. Michael McDonald's costumes, especially Dunne's, capture the worst of the 1980s frump style. Graham Kindred's lighting can't quite do the trick either, casting shadows and darkness onto certain actors in unflattering ways.
Ringwald tries valiantly to craft a performance that differs in spirit from that of Shirley MacLaine, who won an Oscar for her screen performance, but she's never quite comfortable playing Aurora. As for the rest of the actors, director Michael Parva seems to have guided them into doing indirect imitations of their filmic counterparts. Only Brown, who brings a lovably live-wire quality to Garrett, really succeeds in finding a texture that stands apart from the indelibly Oscar-winning work of Jack Nicholson.
When Terms of Endearment was first released in cinemas, its tagline was "Come to laugh, come to cry, come to care, come to terms." While this production provokes the occasional chuckle, it doesn't implore us to cry or care. All that's left is to come to terms with the fact that this production was not particularly endearing.