Sunday, January 04, 2009

Dividing the Estate

"Dividing the Estate" at the Booth Theatre, January 1, 2009

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Horton Foote's version of a Tennessee Williams premise left a bit of a disappointing legacy for me, despite what should have been an excellent cast.

I had decided to see this show mostly to see Elizabeth Ashley. Much to my disappointment, Miss Ashley (or Ahsley, as it was spelled on the notice) was out for this performance and her role was played by less than impressive Jill Tanner. It's got to be terrifically difficult to serve as an understudy on a Broadway show, and I don't mean to diminish Ms. Tanner's efforts. However, minimum requirements when stepping in are to know ALL of the lines as well as NOT throwing away ALL of the jokes. Sadly, Ms. Tanner failed on both counts.

I found the plot relatively predictable, telegraphing character deaths in short order. I also found several characters to be severely one-dimensional, either by script, direction or performance. It was sometimes difficult to tell which was most at fault.

There were one or two bright spots. Penny Fuller as Lucille turns in a lovely performance as the widowed daughter fighting for her son's legacy. Hallie Foote's portrayal of Lucille's sister, the greedy and selfish Mary Jo took until the second act for me to find any note of character shading. The rest of the cast fell victim to either stereotype (in the case of the house staff roles) or wooden delivery (in the case of Devon Abner, Maggie Lacey, Nicole Lawrence and Jenny Dare Paulin).

Jeff Cowie's set works hard to cram in the plethora of features required by the script, but doing so ultimately compromised the grand, but fading elegance of the family manse.

Director Michael Wilson provides a meandering pace giving room to allow the mouse I saw crossing the house left aisle to upstage the entire first act. (Really, a mouse in the aisle!)

1 comment:

Esther said...

Wow, I guess I'm the only one who liked Dividing the Estate - me and Ben Brantley who, coincidentally, was at the performance I attended!

I dunno, I just thought it was funny and entertaining. I got a laugh out of the huge sense of entitlement on the part of everyone in this family and I really loved Hallie Foote's performance.