‘Terms’ goes from novel to screen to stage at Playhouse

Christopher Fidram is a movie buff, but somehow he’d never seen “Terms of Endearment.”

“All I knew about the movie was who the stars were and it gets sad,” he said of the 1983 film, which won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Fidram will direct a stage adaptation that opens Friday at Youngstown Playhouse’s Moyer Room theater.

Once he agreed to direct, Fidram did see the movie version, which starred Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger in the story of a prickly mother-daughter relationship. He also read the Larry McMurtry novel that inspired James L. Brooks’ film.

“It’s very funny, so incredibly funny,” Fidram said. “Why did I resist this film for so long? As you get older, you relate to it in different ways. I’ve talked to people who said when they watched it 30 years ago, they related to Emma. Now, 30 years later, they’re relating to the mother.”

In the Playhouse production, Laura Phillips plays the mother, Aurora, and Rachel Katz is her daughter, Emma.

‘There’s somewhat of a resemblance, but they had an obvious chemistry together,” Fidram said. “That’s what I saw immediately was a chemistry. That’s what’s interesting about the story. With parents our roles evolve. We start off as kids and then we get a little older, a little wiser, a little world weary and the relationship evolves. We don’t necessarily notice it as it’s happening. With Laura and Rachel, I saw the relationship evolving as they played these characters.”

Brian Suchora plays Emma’s philandering husband, Flap, and John Cox plays Garrett Breedlove, a womanizing retired astronaut who moves in next to Aurora.

“I’ve worked with Laura since we were in our early 20s, and I graduated high school with John,” Fidram said. “What a fascinating script to take on to see where we are now. It doesn’t feel like we should be playing the grandparents, but we’re that age now.”

The rest of the cast includes Lindie Schwarten, Carlos Yeager-Rivera, Jennifer Milligan and Renee Cuerdan.

While he realizes many who come to see the show over the next two weekends will be familiar with the movie, Fidram said he didn’t want the screen characters to influence how he and his cast approached the work.

“You have to treat the play as its own medium,” he said. “You don’t want to just do a salute to the film. You have to create your own reality with these characters and hope it resonates. Once we broke it down to what’s happening in each scene, it became like any other play … A lot of what happens in the movie and in the novel is what occurs on stage; however, there are also a lot of surprises.”