In Dan Gordon's play, based primarily on the 1983 Oscar winning film of the same name, two women, Aurora and Emma, live parallel lives connected more by pre-breakfast phone calls than by any internal affections. Aurora is Emma's widowed mother who, after fifteen years alone, has not quite reconnected romantically with anyone. Emma is her eighteen year old daughter who has connected with a man who is not, and never will be, worthy of her. The Two Of Us Productions production is both intriguing and disappointing but I feel that the latter opinion is more the play's fault than that of the players.
Zachary Nayer plays the young husband who should never have married and he plays the role convincingly, but the play suffers from indifference and we ultimately do not care about his character Flap Horton, even when in the second act he reforms a little bit.
On the other hand, Matthew Leinung plays the role originated by Jack Nicholson who won a supporting actor oscar for the film. He is Aurora's neighbor, retired astronaut Garrett Breedlove, a man who uses his brief stellar career as a come-on for young women. In spite of their initial dislike for one another he is the man who brings a touch of reality and happiness into Aurora's life. Even though he withdraws his attentions after successfully bedding her, we instantly sense that something that has enlivened her has also touched him more deeply than he could admit.
Nicole Molinski plays several roles in this production including Emma's best friend Patsy and a nurse who reluctantly does her job. Molinski is excellent in both roles but truly shines as the nurse in her one scene. Brian Yorck plays the memory of Aurora's husband and returns later as a doctor with a foot in his mouth; the latter is the role for which he might be remembered.
One of the things about this play that the production tries to answer is the constant rerouting of our attention. There are three stage areas and the play moves us from one to another constantly, most scenes lasting less than four minutes. It is here where the play is betrayed by its screenplay source. Instead of giving the characters the time they need to grow and to expose their internal emotions, we are cutting, as in a film's construction, from one moment to another. However, this is not a movie, it's a play. Characters need to change their form of dress, adjust to new props, take on the advancing years and these things take time and their toll on the physical production. The writing does not allow for any of this and so we sit and watch a bed moving, listen to a phone ringing or to period recordings of well-known tunes while the actors do what they need to do to prepare for the next three or four minute scene. Films are wonderful for adjusting to the advancement of time; stage is not. The constant need for lightning shifts is a strain and a drain and consequently we do not like the two main characters very much until after the intermission. But stick with the play for there are rewards on the way and I don't mean the intermission refreshments.
Matthew Leinung, Constance Lopez; photo: Molinski Photography
It is the intriguing romance of Aurora and Garrett that changes everything. Constance Lopez, who has played so many glamorous roles in the past, takes on the lead role of Aurora, a young mother and grandmother, who fascinates the astronaut. Lopez and Leinung are wonderful together. Their backhand romance feels real and sincere and the changes it brings to the woman who wants only to be the center of everyone's life regardless of the realities of her own are truly heartwarming. Aurora faces new challenges in Act Two of this play, including facing down a major cancer threat. For Shirley MacLaine in the movie this part of the story was geared to the three-handkerchief ladies and her scene with the "busy" nurse won her an academy award. Lopez, in that scene is terrifying but much more honestly real than MacLaine. It is a scene that will not win her an award, but will stay in your memory for a long, long while.
Garrett's humanization in this act is subtle and creative and Leinung is much better here than in the first half of the play. Handsome and charming he is also a devastating hero of sorts as he battles for his neighbor's daughter's right to be treated well.The sincerity he brings to the slightly longer scenes here is wonderful and appreciated. He and Lopez emerge as the emotional winners in a play that leaves the comic relationship of a dysfunctional mother/daughter duo for a more intensely devotional melodrama. Karissa Payson as Emma comes into her dramatic own in the second half of the play. She is better with humanity and love than she has been with indifference, petulance and pouts.
Payson plays Emma throughout as a young woman whose certainties are what they need to be and she only has a moment here and a moment there in which to become a human being for us. In her scene with her mother - post-coitus - she becomes a full-blooded woman and she holds onto that for the rest of the play.
Set and Lighting Designer Stephen Sanborn has used color as the main contributor to his scenes, almost directing the play with color as his goal. He has helped the short scenes by filtering them through light and sound. Stage Director Sanborn has moved this concept into the playing of his actors, their passions controlled by the light in which they play. It is a unique answer to a script that is both episodic and short-winded in its moments, too many moments. This is a difficult play to undertake thanks to its construction and Sanborn has probably done the best that can be done with it. The play fared well in a brief incarnation in New York starring Molly Ringwald, but has never been given a major production. The play's brief stay in Copake should also reap some intellectual rewards for this production company. It will never be the movie and, like the film, will probably never inspire me to read the book. Even its final solo moment for Aurora, nicely presented by Lopez, is a non-musical aria that explains what we should have discovered within the play itself, except that the author left it to an epilogue rather than take the harder route to self-discovery. This is a one-time only experience, so consider taking advantage of the opportunity - but don't miss the second act.
Terms of Endearment plays through February 24 at The Theater at The Grange, located at The Copake Grange on Empire Road in downtown Copake NY. For tickets and information visit www.TheTwoOfUsProductions.org or call 518-329-6293.