Family feuds for inheritance

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Photo courtesy of ZACH Theatre.

Nothing brings out the razor sharp talons of family members like bickering over an inheritance. An inheritance that includes land, jewelry and of course, money. That is the basis of Texan playwright Horton Foote’s, “Dividing the Estate,” at ZACH Theatre.

Set in the fictional town of Harrison, Texas in 1987, “Dividing the Estate” focuses on feisty matriarch Stella Gordon (Marijane Vandivier) and her three dissimilar children: the level-headed Lucille (Janelle Buchanan), the town drunk Lewis (Paul Wright) and the annoying Mary Jo from Houston (Barbara Chisholm).

When Mary Jo’s family comes for a visit, an argument breaks out over the dinner table that their money should be divided now rather than later to avoid taxes. Lewis agrees with Mary Jo. Both are desperate for money to solve financial woes. However, Lucille and Stella do not want to divvy up the estate at all.

As the play progresses, two shocking deaths occur, throwing a wrench in everyone’s plans on what to do with the estate.

Although it is set in 1987, the play almost feels as like it foreshadows the current U.S. predicament. Issues of unemployment, house foreclosures and the real estate market are all addressed. “Dividing the Estate” is real and organic enough that the Gordon’s dilemma could be happening somewhere this very moment. The play has its standout characters but it works as an ensemble production. Each character feeds on the other’s performance which heightens the reality.

“Dividing the Estate” thrives on over-dramatic performances and comic relief. Many of the scenes where the black house staff interacts with the Gordon family provide many of the laughs. In one scene, the eldest staff member Doug (Eugene Lee) is overcome with emotion and lies down. Stella insists that he goes back to work, but Doug simply responds by saying, “No, thank you. I’m tired.” Vandivier plays Stella with such tenacity that if any family member disagrees with her, they can expect a screaming match.

“Dividing the Estate” is funny and filled with emotions of a strained family which on some level is relatable to everyone, but it does not hold up well for younger audiences. The constant bickering and older characters prove to be a little tiresome.

Update on 5/11/12 at 3:56 p.m.: Article originally misidentified the actress who plays Stella Gordon. She is played by Marijane Vandivier.