BY SANDY STAGGS
Spartanburg Little Theatre celebrates international Women’s Month with the South Carolina premiere of Terms of Endearment celebrating mothers and daughters everywhere.
For those of us who remember the original 1983 Oscar-winning film with Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson, Jeff Daniels, John Lithgow and Danny DeVito, Terms of Endearment will be a nostalgic and sentimental revisit of a modern classic.
For younger generations, Terms is a heart-wrenching tale about maternal love, midlife crises and finding romance again late in life.
For either, Terms ends with sobbing-a-plenty. Those sniffles you hear at the conclusion are not signs of the coronavirus or even the regular seasonal flu, but a mass flood of tears of sorrow and empathy for the journey that has just transpired.
Adapted for the stage by Dan Gordon – the film was based on a novel by Larry McMurtry – Terms appeared Off-Broadway with former Brat Packer Molly Ringwald, and years earlier in London with Linda Gray (yes, Sue Ellen from Dallas).
SLT newcomer Kellie Pifer takes on the role of Aurora Greenway, the well-to-do widow raising her only daughter Emma (played here by Jade Alford of Avenue Q and The Little Mermaid, among others).
Over the years, the two have forged a close bond as friends, sharing their most personal secrets, and brutally honest assessments, including Aurora’s dire warning of a doomed marriage on the eve of Emma’s wedding to Flap Horton (the return of Matthew Ballard), who she sees as lacking ambition and imagination.
Pifer really is unflappable (pardon the pun) as Aurora. Alluring, quick-witted and with all of the earmarks of a “lady,” Pifer really has the best lines in the play: “He (Flap) can’t even do the simple things, like fail locally, when informed Emma and her three kids are moving out of state.
Alford perseveres through youthful energy and wise-cracks and matures throughout the play, though no real physical aging changes are shown for any of the characters in this story that spans about 30 years.
Off-stage, both Flap and Emma have extramarital affairs, but it’s Aurora’s courtship of her neighbor of 15 years that takes center stage for much of the play. Robert Searle, in a truly energized and mesmerizing performance, takes on the Jack Nicholson role with deftness and aplomb, nearly stealing his scenes from the women in this female-eccentric work.
Balding with a little bit of a gut, Searle plays Garrett Breddlove the middle-aged swingin’ alcoholic playboy who parlays his status as a heralded astronaut into a pick-up line for young women barely half his age. One drunken evening he seductively invites Aurora to lunch and she acquiesces in a moment of weakness some five years later. Yes, five years.
And while the play obviously cannot duplicate the notorious corvette on the beach scene, the tail-end of that scene (No Spoilers!) is shown here in hilarious awe.
Much of the better dialogue in the film is retained such as the many long-distance phone calls between mother and daughter, but some dialogue does not translate as well through expository or epistolary form.
That said, director Ahsha M. Daniels actually improves on a couple of scenes from the film. She ratchets up the opening scene a couple of notches, and her actors dazzle in the sexual subtext in the Renoir in the boudoir segment to beautiful and comical effect.
The script does suffer from an episodic feel, but the production is briskly-paced with plenty of costume changes and comfortable flow thanks in part to Tim Baxter-Ferguson’s mammoth array of fixed locations and abstract scenic design.
This play also features Natalie Ritz as Emma’s best friend Patsy (as well as Nurse & Doris) and Brad Sandor as Rudyard and Dr. Maise.
Peter Lamson is lighting designer, Elizabeth Gray is costume designer, Katherine Rausch is properties mistress, Chandler Crawford is sound designer, and Ashley Zimmerman returns as stage manager.
Terms of Endearment continues for one more weekend March 13-15 at Chapman cultural Center, 200 E. St. John St. in Spartanburg. For tickets, call (864) 542-ARTS or visit spartanburglittletheatre.com