Old Globe Theatre Mounts Horton Foote Comedy About Avarice

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(from left) Horton Foote Jr., Penny Fuller, Elizabeth Ashley, Jenny Dare Paulin, Nicole Lowrance, Hallie Foote, James DeMarse, Kelly McAndrew and Devon Abner ~Photo by Henry DiRocco.
By Jack Lyons Theatre and Film Critic

There’s something about southern families and their last wills and testaments that just fascinate Americans.

Not to go picking on our southern brethren, but southern playwrights themselves love to write plays about the “the family”, most of them rife with over-the-top characters and situations, and the inevitable “reading of the will”, and lets not forget the role of Religion.

     Tracy Letts explored and excoriated a dysfunctional Oklahoma extended family in “August: Osage County” (winning a Pulitzer and a Tony in the process).  Almost half of Tennessee Williams’ plays revolve around men and women of the South who come to grips with family legacies, and the inevitable reading of the Will, and the money to be fought over by the relatives.   Lillian Hellman’s “ The Little Foxes”, the 1939 ground-breaking drama of greed and avarice set in Alabama, is a prime example. When is comes to satire, bordering on farce concerning money, Del Shores has his southern Texas families solidly in his cross-hairs with “Daddy’s Dyin’, Whose Got the Will” and “Sordid Lives” as prima facia evidence.

     Horton Foote a Texas born, two-time Academy Award winning screenwriter (“To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Tender Mercies” was a playwright of more than fifty plays, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for the play “The Young Man from Atlanta”.  This time, San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre and Foote take on The Gordon Family of Harrison Texas, in his last play “Dividing the Estate” (he died in 2009), an over-the-top comedy/farce, directed by Michael Wilson, and starring Foote’s real-life children Hallie Foote, as Mary Jo and Horton Foote, Jr. as Lewis Gordon.  He claimed the story was not a Roman-a-clef take on the Foote family tree, but don’t writers always say that?

     The story has very few surprises in this tale of self-obsessed, avaricious relatives who eagerly wait for the Will to be read in order to see how much money they’re going to get from Mama’s estate once she moves on.  Elizabeth Ashley as family Matriarch, Stella Gordon, along with Hallie Foote as Mary Jo, Horton Foote, Jr. as Lewis Gordon, Penny Fuller as Lucille, briskly move the creaky and predictable plot along, with help from the rest of the cast.  It’s all about materialistic daughters, scheming husbands who marry into the family, and a couple of shallow vapid granddaughters thrown into the mix for good measure.  Thank goodness it’s played as a comedy/farce.  There isn’t anyone to root for as they are all either too dumb or naïve, save one, Devon Abner, as Son.  Abner, plays the level-headed administrator of the family estate and the executor of the family Will, and, boy, does he have his hands full with this lot.  It’s a bit of a guessing game as to whether he can keep the various interested parties in line and within the law. 

     Director Michael Wilson imported most the Old Globe cast from his Broadway production of “Dividing the Estate”, as well as its creative team of: Jeff Cowie, David C. Woolard, and Rui Rita, as Scenic Designer, Costume Designer, and Lighting Designer respectively.  You won’t get a headache trying to figure out the storyline, but you will laugh a great deal at the on-stage shenanigans and performances of this outsized Texas family.

     “Dividing the Estate” performs on the main stage, Darlene and Donald Shiley Theatre through February 12, 2012.  For ticket information go online at www.theoldglobe.org or call 619-234-5623.

All Photos by Henry DiRocco.