Review by Teresa Gasparini
Words do not do justice to the unconditional love that can exist between a mother and daughter. Though sometimes strained, misused, or mistreated, a mother-daughter bond is generally unmatched and unbreakable. In The Two of Us/Roving Actors’ Repertory Ensemble production of Terms of Endearment, we watch the relationship of Aurora, expertly portrayed by Constance Lopez, and her daughter, Emma, ably played by Karissa Payson, challenged, tested, and triumph over the course of 23 years.
Aurora is a highly opinionated (perhaps even a tightly wound), yet doting mother whose love for her daughter is not always expressed in endearing words, but certainly in endearing actions. The story begins with Emma as a newborn baby sleeping soundly in her crib, only to be awakened by her mother because she wasn’t breathing loudly enough to Aurora’s liking. Once the baby’s cry is heard, Aurora states a factual “There! That’s better.” This sets the stage for the Mama Rose (a la Gypsy) character we are in for during the show.
The story, like life, continues. We are introduced to Emma as a young adult preparing for her wedding day to “Flap” Horton, played with energy by Zachary Nayer. Much to Aurora’s voiced dismay, Emma pushes forward marrying Flap, starting a family, moving to another state, and eventually sinking into the pitfalls of an unhappy marriage and infidelity on both sides. How does a daughter handle all this when her mother is hundreds of miles away? They talk on the phone. First thing in the morning – every day. The phone conversations prove to be therapeutic for Aurora as well because managing life without her daughter close by presents its own challenges. This includes a sense of loneliness which spurs her to ask out to lunch long time neighbor, Garrett (He is referred to as “The Astronaut” during the aforementioned telephone conversations). Garrett is portrayed convincingly by the humorous Matthew Leinung. One lunch date with “The Astronaut” launches into a vibrant love affair for Aurora who “seals the deal” by inviting Garrett over to see her Renoir painting.
(Note: It was not lost on this writer, who proudly took Art History in college, that Renoir was an artist known to celebrate beauty with an emphasis on feminine sensuality. This played extremely well particularly in this scene, and in the several references throughout the production.)
The show ends with the bond of a mother and daughter highlighted, weighed, and felt the most both emotionally and physically. As Emma falls ill, we see a mother’s love and the determination for her daughter’s well-being strongly emerge. The famous line, “Give my daughter the shot!” echoed through the house so boldly and convincingly that it was tempting to join in the mother’s distress and coax the nurse to “give her the shot!” The performance was capped off with the moving final phone call to her daughter’s answering machine. Lopez portrayed Aurora’s grief with such a heavy heart that the audience was left in a stilled silence for noticeable moments before applause took over. In an earlier scene, Aurora states, “You hung up before I could have the last word and you know I like to have the last word”. Well, Ms. Lopez, you certainly had the powerful last word.
Constance Lopez is a standout in this production. Lopez entered at the top of the show with gusto and kept that energy and valiant characterization alive throughout the entire show. She is a committed, engaged, and well-seasoned actor. It should also be noted that Lopez wears multiple hats in this production on top of carrying the show with her performance. She also serves as a founding member of the nearly 20 year old company, producer, and assisted with directing this production. Simply put, Lopez is a theatrical powerhouse.
Karissa Payson as Emma provided a strong yin to Aurora’s yang, adding a softer, even quiet, balance to the production. It should be noted that Payson is a recent high school graduate, playing a character in Emma whose life and trials demand a deeply mature emotional reservoir. While some of Emma’s powerful, dramatic moments might have called for a deeper dive in order to hit home entirely, Payson’s performance meets the heavy challenge and her performance in the here and now is a notable achievement. But just as her character Emma declares: “I’m possible, very possible;” one cannot help but feel that the same is true of Ms. Payson in her onstage career.
As “The Astronaut”/Garrett Breedlove, Matthew Leinung provides a breath of fresher and lighter air to the generally heavy story. His comedic timing, natural charm, and wonderful chemistry with Lopez provides a strong backbone to this production. Leinung is instantly likable as soon as he sets foot on stage, despite the playboy nature of his character. He has the audience rooting for Garrett in his relationship with Aurora. With Lopez, Mr. Leinung portrays a wonderful evolution of their love affair, but I will leave it up to the audience member to decide whether or not there is a happily-ever-after for the two.
Another notable performance is that of Nicole Molinski who takes on the three roles of Patsy (Emma’s best friend), Doris (a love interest for Garrett), and the Nurse (who is on the receiving end of “Give my daughter the shot!”). Bravo to Molinski, who effectively developed three very distinct characters.
Zachary Nayer takes on the tough role of Flap Horton. When we first meet Flap he is the unfaithful, unloving and seemingly uncaring husband of Emma, which Nayer portrays in a kinder manner than the character might deserve. Nayer’s gentler portrayal of the gruff Flap make the character’s realization of just how much his ailing wife means to him feel more inevitable than dramatic. But the audience will respond to the character arc, in part due to Nayer’s own personal appeal.
Rounding out the cast is Brian Yorck, a veteran of The Two of Us Productions, taking on dual roles as Rudyard and Dr. Maise. Yorck is effective in both roles, but we see his talents shine brightest as Dr. Maise, if only based upon stage time. He skillfully presented the opinionated, if easily persuaded, doctor with a big heart.
Terms of Endearment is well known as the 1983 motion picture starring Shirley McClain based on the novel by Larry McMurtry, and the screenplay by James L. Brooks. It is important to note that in most cases, stage plays are adapted for film, but for this show it is the opposite. This is a motion picture adapted for the stage by Dan Gordon and that presents obstacles when undertaking a production such as this. In movies, it is easy to go from shot to shot or scene to scene, but this does not always play well on stage. It can make a production seem choppy, or the short scenes can interrupt the pacing or “flow” of the show. Kudos to director Stephen Sanborn for taking on this challenge with expertise and skill. Scenes changes were seamless and the play moved forward with ease. This production is a wonderful example of the human condition as the lives and relationships of Aurora, Emma, and those around them were portrayed with sincerity and heart clearly guided by the vision of an insightful director.
Terms of Endearment plays through February 24, 2019 at The Copake Grange Theater. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students and seniors. Call 518.329.6293 or 866.811.4111 for more information.
Teresa Gasparini is a New York based director, actor, and is a co-founder of Hudson Valley Ovation. She serves as the Artistic Director for Clove Creek Dinner Theater in Fishkill, NY and as Executive Director for The New Deal Creative Arts Center located in Hyde Park, NY.