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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
DIVIDING THE ESTATE
at the Booth

YOU CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANTED
By BILL STEVENSON

  Elizabeth Ashley/PH: Joan Marcus

Young playwrights, take note: If you stick around long enough, you might hit a career peak at age 92. Of course, this is a very rare , perhaps unprecedented, occurrence. But it's happening to Horton Foote, whose comedy-drama about a genteel, old-money Texas family, Dividing the Estate, has made it to Broadway across the street from the dysfunctional Southern clan in August: Osage County. Foote's play is lighter in tone and somewhat less ambitious than Tracy Letts' saga, but it too boasts a large cast and provides a wickedly funny take on a Southern family.

Primary Stages produced Dividing the Estate in 2007 with virtually all the actors who are now appearing on Broadway. The main difference is Jeff Cowie's set, which has become much larger and grander at the Booth Theatre. The play takes place in 1987 in Harrison, Texas, in an old house that's been owned by the same family for generations. The town has seen better days though, and traffic can be heard on a nearby highway.

Stella ( Elizabeth Ashley) is the family's octogenarian matriarch, and she presides over the home from her favorite armchair. Her daughter Lucille ( Penny Fuller) helps run the house along with a few servants. Stella's most loyal employee is 93-year old Doug ( Arthur French), who has lived with the family since he was five. Weak and shaky, he still wants to serve dinner with Mildred ( Pat Bowie) and Cathleen ( Keiana Richard). Lucille's son, simply called Son ( Devon Abner) , runs the farm and takes care of the books. His uncle Lewis ( Gerald McRaney) also lives at home and often has to ask Son for money to pay his gambling debts. He urgently needs money again because he's become involved with a local teenager, Irene ( Virginia Kull).

Since he often needs money and doesn't have a job, Lewis tries to convince his mother that she should divide the estate. His sister Mary Jo ( Hallie Foote) is even more eager to divvy up the house, farm, and remaining cash. She and her husband, Bob ( James DeMarse), a real estate broker, have been living high on the hog in Houston with their spoiled daughters Emily ( Jenny Dare Paulin) and Sissy ( Nicole Lowrance). But because of the late-eighties oil bust in Houston, they're on the ropes financially. Like Lewis, Mary Jo has already received substantial advances on her inheritance, but she wants the rest of it to maintain her lifestyle. And she wants it now.

Foote, the playwright's daughter, has acted in many of his dramas ( The Day Emily Marries, When They Speak of Rita, The Trip to Bountiful, and others). She's at her best and definitely at her funniest here. Mary Jo is shrill, demanding, materialistic, and driven batty by her family. She really loses it when she finds out there's a possibility of oil leases on their land-and she wasn't informed. Mary Jo may be greedy, but as played by Foote she's a hoot.

Ashley is nearly as memorable as Stella, grounding her family and the play as she tries to keep the estate in one piece. French is also fine as Stella's longtime servant and friend, a vestige of the old, fast-disappearing South. McRaney is also well-cast as the desperate Lewis, usually referred to as Brother, and Fuller is well cast as the less hysterical but still self-interested daughter Lucille. Abner makes Son the most reasonable, sensible family member, and Maggie Lacey complements him as his sweet but smart schoolteacher fiancee.

Director Michael Wilson makes excellent use of his top-notch cast and handsome set. He brings out the humor in Foote's play without letting it devolve into a Momm

 


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