Off-Broadway Review: Terms of Endearment" at 59E59 Theaters

Joseph Verlezza

  • New York Critic

It is always a difficult task to adapt for the stage a novel that has turned into a successful screenplay. The current American premier of Dan Gordon’s adaptation of “Terms of Endearment” has even greater obstacles to overcome following after the familiar dramatic tearjerker associated with brilliant performances by iconic film actors. These difficulties have nothing to do with comparing the quality of performances; rather they result from the thinly scattered adaptation by Mr. Gordon.

In order to have “terms of endearment” there must be relationships created by believable characters with purpose and depth. Mr. Gordon has provided actors with a multitude of vignettes that struggle to establish any emotional content or connection between the actors or between the actors and the audience. It also becomes difficult to follow the timeline despite the listing of dates in the program and flashing them above the set at the beginning of each scene.

Too much and yet not enough happens in the play’s five-year time span to effectively establish a sufficient dramatic arc. There is no character growth or building of relationships. At times it feels as though there are several solo performers each telling their own stories. The cast works admirably with the material they are provided but are not afforded the time or circumstance for them to form strong bonds. Except for the final scenes, they appear as personalities rather than people. They reveal reaction to situations but not insight into their responses. A selection of musical vocal interludes are employed in an attempt to reflect moods and feelings during silent scene endings or transitions.

Molly Ringwald invests in a strong willed and straight forward Aurora Greenway who is direct and opinionated but never hard or abusive. There is a lonely, lovable, and caring undercurrent simmering beneath but not enough opportunity to expose it. Hannah Dunne creates a likable Emma Greenway who is determined and vulnerable yet misguided and incomplete. Jeb Brown portrays Garrett Breedlove with the right amount of bravura and quirkiness as to not offend but rather create a completely different “term of endearment.” His character is written with the most depth and Mr. Brown takes advantage of every turn to produce a rich, honest emotional landscape. Jessica DiGiovanni (Patsy Clark/Doris/Nurse), Denver Milord (Flap Horton), and John C. Vennema (Rudyard/Doctor Maise) round out the competent cast.

Perhaps what eludes this stage adaptation is that which is missing and only alluded to. Merely talking about endearing children who are never present, contemptuous situations that are crucial to plot development, and an undefined time and place provide a sparse sense of connection between characters and scenes. All the “terms” are consistently spelled out easily and vividly: what is lacking are those important moments of heartfelt “endearment.”


“Terms of Endearmant” is by Dan Gordon, based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry, and the screenplay by James L. Brooks. It is presented by The Directors Company, Julian Schlossberg, Roy Furman, Harold Newman, Florence Kaufman, and Andrew Tobias.

The cast of “Terms of Endearment” features Jeb Brown; Jessica DiGiovanni; Hannah Dunne; Denver Milord; Molly Ringwald; and John C. Vennema.
The design team includes David L. Arsenault (set design); Michael McDonald (costume design); Graham Kindred (lighting design); Quentin Chiappetta (sound design); and Amanda Miller (wig design). The Production Stage Manager is Rose Riccardi.

The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Please note there is no performance on Thursday 11/24 at 7:00 p.m. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25.00 - $70.00 ($25.00 - $49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit Running time is 120 minutes with one intermission. Photo: Carol Rosegg