Set in the fictional town of Harrison, Texas in 1987, Dividing the Estate focuses on the Gordons, a dysfunctional family ruled by octogenarian matriarch Stella (Jean Walker) that must prepare for an uncertain future when plunging real estate values and increased unemployment threaten their fortune.
Stella’s adult children unite at the family home for a dinner where they engage in a debate about whether or not they should divide the estate while their mother is still alive in order to
ensure themselves financial independence. The siblings are not a pleasant lot. The oldest and perhaps least dis-likeable sibling, Lucille (Lyn Wilson) is a widow who lives with her mother on the estate. Lewis (Brendan Cooney) is a gambling, drinking, womaniser whose poor life choices see him desperate for another advance on his inheritance, never considering that he could get a job. Youngest sibling Mary Jo (Cate Rogers) is a housewife who spends money well beyond her means and is teaching her two daughters, Emily (Jasmine Leech)
and Sissie (Nicole Walker) to do the same. Her husband Bob (Lindsay Dunn) also never misses an opportunity to provide his two cents worth. Lucille’s son, Son (Mark Mulders), does his best to manage the business of the estate with little support, and little compensation for his efforts. His love interest Pauline, Laura Antoniazzi has the patience of a saint and holds strong as Son’s bride to be where most would leave a ball of dust in their rush to escape the
in laws from hell. Rounding out the cast are the loyal servants, Doug (Wayne Antoney), Mildred (Kate Anolak), Cathleen (Gabi Douglas) and late entrant Irene (Eliza Bampton).
Director Libby Drake has chosen not to use the Texan drawl and black servants that the production calls for in an effort to make the piece more meaningful to local audiences and each audience member should be able to see a little bit of him – or herself in one or another of the characters’ motivations.
The strength of this piece is not so much in the subject matter, which is predictable and a little repetitive, but in the intricacies of the characters, who each have layers of complexity, and the superb cast who really honour them. All are excellent but some are worth mention. Jean Walker as the matriarch captures the obstinacy, reverence for tradition, and unyielding love of Stella for her family.
Lynne Wilson is unswerving as the most dutiful daughter, who nevertheless is fiercely protective of Son’s entitlements. Brendan Cooney delivers a powerful performance throughout and is successful at delivering a vulnerability in his sober scenes which is well contrasted to his initial rages. Cate Rogers is exceptional as the conniving youngest sister, switching between fierceness and a haplessness that becomes key to the comic elements of this play. Her repetition of a single sentence in the final scene is seriously funny despite the tragedy of the situation.
With a simple but effective set and skilful lighting by Richard Parkhill, this is the good theatre, continuing the Red Phoenix tradition.