Some shows are all about the action — light shows, special effects, battles or explosions.
But the Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild’s production of “Terms of Endearment” is a show that’s, above all, about moments of raw emotion and the connection between family members — and both the funny and sad moments that come with that.
“It’s all about emotions — that’s the story,” said Ada Packiewicz, who portrays Emma. “There aren’t a bunch of explosions, right? It’s all on stage in the conversations. It’s us sitting around and talking. It’s in how we say things and how we feel.”
“First and foremost (the show) is a comedy. There’s lots of very funny moments and what I want people to walk away with is that, and that sense of connection — whether it’s mother-daughter, sister-sister, father-son,” added Chris Finn, who doubles as director and the character Aurora for the show. “It doesn’t matter who, just that sense of connection and that they laughed. And maybe a sense of appreciation, too, for the people in their lives.”
CVTG will open its production of “Terms of Endearment” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at The Grand. The play, based on the Academy Award-winning film starring Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger and Jack Nicholson and the book by Larry McMurtry, will run through Jan. 20, with shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and matinees at 1:30 p.m. on Sundays.
Telling such an iconic, story can prove to be extremely challenging, Finn said.
“I catch myself many times hearing the lines from the movie in my head as I’m saying them,” Finn said. “Sometimes I like where that goes and sometimes I try and halt that. It was a great movie, very well known, very well loved.”
“On top of the mechanics there’s also the expectations that people are holding coming into this,” added Frank Rineck, who portrays Flap. “There’s somewhat of a pressure on us.”
In addition to that pressure, however, the script has also proved challenging as film and stage acting are two different animals, Finn said.
Although the movie was released in 1983, the script adapted for the stage by Dan Gordon is relatively new, as it was just revived on the West End a couple of years ago, Finn said.
In an effort to allow audiences to see for themselves the story — the comedy, the connection, the emotions — Finn decided to move all of the major action to the front of the stage and take advantage of the entire theater for the show.
A table sits just in front of the first row of chairs; beds are set on the edge of the stage. That’s entirely by design, Finn said.
“I pushed everything downstage a lot. We’re not using about 40 percent of the upstage area on purpose,” Finn said, “because the farther we are from the audience, the harder it would be to convey those deep emotions, those deep feelings we need to get across.”
As in the film and novel, the play follows widower Aurora Greenway and her daughter, Emma, who have a strong bond. Despite Emma marrying teacher and playboy Flap Horton against Aurora’s wishes, the duo talk on the phone each and every morning. They laugh together, they cry together.
“They absolutely stay connected, no matter what,” Finn said. “They do have an extremely strong bond even though they don’t live near each other for many many years and despite Emma wishing to get away from her mother, it’s stronger than they even know.”
As Emma’s marriage sours because of Flap’s extramarital affairs, she grows closer to her mother, who meanwhile has become romantically involved with her neighbor, a former astronaut.
Near its end, the play turns tragic when Emma is diagnosed with cancer.
Character development has been key to telling the story properly, cast members agreed.
But to some extent, that also came with stepping far outside of themselves, as many of the characters in the show could be considered selfish, Rineck said.
“I think there’s a certain level of dissociation for those characters,” he said. “With Flap, he’s a childish, selfish, cheating jerk, but I’d like to think I’m not really like that in real life. There’s a certain level of stepping away from yourself.”
But it’s not quite that simple, either.
“I think selfishness is a key theme through this story. ... Try to imagine if you move away from your mother and she calls you every day and you talk to her every single day and you like that,” Finn said. “Sure, Aurora’s a very selfish person, but Emma is not. And so the balance of that, they help each other out. Aurora helps Emma see how she should focus herself — that’s something that Emma doesn’t do.”
The selfishness also can be turned on its flip side to show the beauty and depth of the relationships, Rineck added.
“It drives people apart but it also brings people together. When Flap is at his worst, it brings these two together in a way and even when the two of us are having problems, that’s when Emma gets more out of the phone conversations and gets more out of them,” Rineck said.
“So you can really see how other people’s flaws can make Emma realize how much she needs her mother and vice versa,” Rineck said, “going from the first scene where she says she’s marrying Flap and getting away to toward the end, when she comes back.”
“It could be a kind of ‘I told you so’ moment for the audience,” Rineck added.
“Could it be? Oh,” Finn responded, chuckling, “it will.”