But, sometimes there is hope. I am delighted to report that Palm Beach Dramaworks' production of Horton Foote's Dividing the Estate is as close to perfection as any theatregoer could wish for. From the superb set by Jeff Modereger to the exemplary ensemble, this is a play that should not be missed. Perhaps the highest recommendation is that, for 2 1/2 hours you could hear a pin drop in the theater. The audience was uniformly listening. How unusual.
A family is waiting for the matriarch to die so that they may "divide the estate" as soon as possible. Said family is "one for the books": the stoic daughter; the venal, selfish daughter; and the alcoholic son. Add to the mix in-laws with ulterior motives of their own and you have a drama of O'Neill proportions but with a tremendous amount of humor. Just watch the actors inhabit their roles. Credit for this goes to director William Hayes, who has the ability to guide actors without any seams showing. You cannot tell where the directing begins and ends.
On Broadway, Penny Fuller played Elizabeth Ashley's daughter. In reality, Fuller is a year younger than Ashley. At Dramaworks, the roles are played, respectively, by Elizabeth Dimon and Broadway's Mary Stout. The difference in their ages is visually appropriate. Dimon is virtuous, sweet and nobody's fool. Stout is sensational in her Southern aggressiveness tempered with the inbred "be sweet" credo that so many Southern women of that time were educated to be. Other standouts are Avery Sommers and John Archie as the family's domestics who have served the family for years. Archie in particular gives a standout performance without an ounce of self-pity or self-consciousness. The most memorable performance is Rob Donohoe as Lewis, the alcoholic son. He is, by turns, heart-breaking and frustrating. Any actor knows that it is very difficult to portray inebriation; too many times they break into the "may I have some salt to go with that scenery" mode and go way over the top. By, basically, by underplaying, Donohoe manages to break your heart ... many times.
To true theatre-lovers: Give yourselves over to 2 1/2 hours of what good theatre used to be. On that note, I can only say "it's about time."
Dividing the Estate at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St. West Palm Beach, through May 27. All seats $60 for all performances. For tickets and more information, visit www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.
-- Jeffrey Bruce