In memory of the exceptional Horton Foote I thought I’d post my review of Dividing The Estate which first appeared on Talk Entertainment September 27, 2007.
DIVIDING THE ESTATE – Family Feud
What a family Horton Foote has conjured up in his latest offering DIVIDING THE ESTATE now playing at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. At ninety one years of age Mr. Foote continues to amaze. Like some sort of magician he tackles the everyday problems of three generations of a Texas family and magically makes the mundane quite interesting and ultimately extremely amusing. He takes his time getting there. For those people in a rush I simply suggest to sit back and listen and wait and I guarantee you will leave the theatre beaming.
The matriarch, Stella (an older, wiser, genteel and stubborn Elizabeth Ashley) has no intentions of doing any such thing as “dividing the estate” that has kept all three of her children, her grandson and three black servants on the payroll for so many years. They have done well up until now. But it is the eighties and the price of Texas oil has plummeted, cotton cannot be gown profitably, house foreclosures are on the rise and Stella’s brood all need more money to live in the custom to which they have become accustomed. And horror or horrors, they might actually have to work for a living. Or worse still, live together in Stella’s huge house.
Michael Wilson, the director, has done a fine job in clarifying and keeping the cast of thirteen on their toes – creating memorable characters who love to change the subject. Mr. Foote supplying the not altogether unexpected but interesting story line and wonderful revelatory dialogue. Little by little we get to know this family, their secrets and their foibles – all of which pays off beautifully in the final scene.
Every actor is the cast is superb. And it is quite an ensemble. Headed by the still raspy voiced Ashley who commands her family and the stage. Penny Fuller is emotionally right as Lucille, giving a full rounded characterization. Her son, Devon Abner, has a tough role as keeper of the estate books and trying to keep everyone happy – most of all himself. Courting Pauline – a teacher and person concerned with subjects that the family would not rather even have to think about.
Lewis (Gerald McRaney) is the drunken gambler son of Stella who needs ten thousand dollars because he’s gotten a very young hamburger helper – Cathleen (Kelana Richard) in trouble. But the best sibling is Mary Jo. Determined to get her share of the spoils and get it right now thank you very much. She’s a gossip and tells tall tales out of school and is an absolute riot in the part. She is played by the phenomenal Hallie Foote. It’s worth the price of admission to see this performance.
Her boistrous husband Bob (James DeMarse) has his hands full with this one. Their two bored daughters – Sissie (Nicole Lowrance) and Emily (Jenny Dare Paulin) give excellent comic supporting performances amidst all these towering actors.
The staff in attendance – maid and cook and demi-Matriarch is deftly played by a powerful Lynda Gravatt. Her helper, Kelena Richard does just fine. Arthur French as the elder Doug who has been with the family forever and whose death causes some further complications – mainly the death of Stella – gives a fine tuned and touching portrayal of a man whose final wish is to be buried next to his mama when the time comes.
But all of this would not be possible without the humorous vision and fertile mind of Horton Foote who has written a play about a family in financial disarray that almost anyone could identify with. Many of us have similar relatives and similar problems but we fail to see the humor of it all. Mr. Foote is a master of this.