By Diana Saenger
Sibling rivalries rarely reach fever pitch more than when learning what they will inherit from their next of kin. That’s the theme of Horton Foote’s 2009 Tony Award-nominated Best Play, “Dividing the Estate,” making its West Coast premiere at the Old Globe Theatre. The more Horton’s rich characters tussle over their estate, the more the humor in the circumstances is elevated. Superbly directed by Michael Wilson, “Dividing the Estate” does a great job of presenting a sobering reality to all who see it, but also in tickling their funny bones.
Gazing at the impressive set designed by Jeff Cowie before the play begins reveals the lavish Gordon home of matriarch Stella (Elizabeth Ashley). In the stunning residence that even Scarlett O’Hara would be proud to descend the stairs in every item from the chairs to the chandeliers tells the story of this family about to fight over the estate. Some want it divided before Stella dies.
Lewis Gordon sets off the angst in this story when he bursts into the room obviously a little inebriated. In a loud voice he demands money from his nephew, Son, (Devon Abner) who is the estate’s executor. Throughout the play Son is the mild-mannered peacemaker to a point, but it’s Lewis’ almost insufferable antics that irate Stella and his sister Lucille (Penny Fuller) to no end. Lewis is a standout in his portrayal and why wouldn’t he be, he’s Horton Foote, Jr., the son of the playwright, making his return to the stage after 17 years.
He’s joined by his sister, Hallie Foote, who was nominated for Featured Actress, in the 2009 Broadway production of “Dividing the Estate.” She plays Mary Jo, Lewis’ sister who is manipulated by her strong-willed, but obviously unsuccessful, realtor husband Bob (James DeMarse). The couple is ecstatic thinking they will get a huge sum from the estate when
Stella finally passes, but Bob becomes a run-away locomotive, full-steam filling the air, when that may not happen.
From the first words Stella speaks, it’s apparent Ashley will provide the powerhouse performance that glues these characters together. That’s not a surprise since her awards and her stage, film and TV credits fill nearly a full page in the program. Stella’s emotions swing like a clock pendulum. One moment she’s mad at Lewis, the next telling Son to give him more money. Sometimes she shows more favor to her beloved servant Doug (Roger Robinson), than her children.
Robinson (“Joe Turner’s Come and Gone”) plays the 92-year-old butler whose hands shake so badly that his co-workers insist he is unable to serve the big family dinner. But Stella overrides their concern. Robinson is brilliant in this role, heightening the humor in Horton’s well-written character.
Other cast members layer the hilarity in their roles in situations many audience members have or will experience. The perky Kelly McAndrew plays Son’s fiancée, Pauline, who irritates Stella every time she spouts some new statistic from her teacher-mind. Fuller is the perfect foil for Lewis, as a timid but earnest daughter, sister and mother to Son, who just wants everyone to get along. Mary Jo and Bob’s daughters, Emily (Jenny Dare Paulin) and Sissie (Nicole Lowrance), are spitting images of today’s spoiled Hollywood teens.
Irene (Bree Welch) brings much levity to her short entrance into the Gordon home, and Keiana Richard plays a feisty kitchen worker along side her boss, Mildred, wonderfully portrayed by Pat Bowie. With a voice and zany personality of a Wanda Sykes Hall, Bowie steals every scene she’s in.
If you go
What: “Dividing the Estate”
When: Now to Feb. 12
Where: The Globe Theatre, Balboa Park
Tickets: From $29
Box Office: (619) 23-GLOBE