Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Dividing the Estate
Oil Crash Turns a Texas Family Mean
Adobe Theater

Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Stephanie's review of Immortal Longings and Dean's reviews of The Scarlet Letter and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee


Joseph Threadgill and Carolyn Wickwire
Photo by James Cady
I've always thought of Horton Foote as a kind of Texas version of Thornton Wilder. Not quite as sweet, not always as deep, but just as rural and textured. He also reminds me a bit or Preston Jones who, like Foote, depicted a fictional Texas town in the Texas Trilogy plays. While I've enjoyed everything I've seen by Horton Foote, I have particular affection for is his movie Tender Mercies

Foote was well honored during his long career, nabbing Academy Awards for the scripts for To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies. He received a Pulitzer Prize for his play The Young Man from Atlanta. And in 2008, at 92, he won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play and the Obie Award for Playwriting for Dividing the Estate.

Dividing the Estate takes place in the fictional Texas town of Harrison in 1987. The oil collapse of the mid-1980s has ravaged the local economy, leaving the members of the land-rich, cash-poor Gordons in sorry financial shape. The family's aging matriarch Stella (Carolyn Wickwire) is against the idea of dividing the estate, which two of her three children demand.

This is not a loving family. They hold long and deep resentments, and Stella is a poor leader, shifting her allegiances and "hard-held" positions from one conversation to another. Her alcoholic son Lewis (Clifton Chadwick) is a ne'er do good with gambling and teenage-girl problems.

Her grandson Son (Micah Linford) runs the estate, reluctantly loaning estate dollars to Lewis and his aunt Mary Jo (Carolyn Hogan) who lives near Houston. His mom Lucille (Linda Williams) also lives on the estate. Add to the mix Doug (Joseph Threadgill) and Mildred (Kennetta LarVese), two long-term domestic servants.

The pressure to divide the estate reaches a boiling point when Mary Jo shows up with her husband Bob (Steven Suttle) and her ditsy daughters Sissie (Cheyenne Bilbrey) and Cathleen (Sarah Seaton). Along the way we also meet Son's fiancée Pauline (Rhonda Lewis) and Lewis's teenage girlfriend Irene (Clara Lambert).

This is an ensemble drama/comedy through and through. There is no protagonist, no hero, and no real villain. There are a ton of good one-liners that run at a slightly higher level than expected, and the plot points stay a step ahead of expectation. The story deservedly received praise for its crisp and solid writing during its New York City run.

Director Brain Hansen expresses affection for Foote's writing in his Director's Note, and it shows in the care he takes with the story. I saw the performance on opening night, and there were a couple of stiff moments that didn't quite gel, but I would expect these edges would round out in subsequent shows.

There are also some surprising performances. For one, Joseph Threadgill in his first stage performance is wonderful as Doug. Carolyn Hogan as Mary Jo is a firecracker. The energy level of the whole production rises when her character entered and it stays high to the end. I'm not sure whether it was the Mary Jo character or Hogan's performance—the character isn't very likeable, but Hogan keeps her interesting and oddly sweet.

The production team does a fine job as usual at the Adobe. The production is excellent, from the solid set (Bob Byers) to the right costumes (Carolyn Hogan, Judi Buehler, Karen Linford) to the lighting (Nick Tapia) and sound (Kelly Fernandez). Delightful presentation of the always satisfying Horton Foote.

Dividing the Estate by Horton Foote, directed by Brian Hansen, is playing at the Adobe Theater, 9813 Fourth St. NW, through May 22, 2016. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm, with a special "Pay What You Will" performance (to benefit the cast and crew) on Thursday May 12 at 7:30 pm. General admission is $17. Seniors, students, and ATG members are $15. For reservations, call 505-898-9222 or go to the Adobe Theater website at adobetheater.org.


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