Theatre Review: Dividing the Estate

You can always rely on Red Phoenix to give you an interesting night out in the theatre. Dividing the Estate is a richly written piece of American drama by Horton Foote.

Presented by Red Phoenix Theatre and Holden Street Theatres

Reviewed 22 August 2019

You can always rely on Red Phoenix to give you an interesting night out in the theatre. Dividing the Estate is a richly written piece of American drama by Horton Foote. Who? I hear you say. Well Albert Horton Foote Jnr was a pretty famous American playwright and screenwriter who wrote and also adapted some very well known works for the American stage and screen both large and small. He wrote the screenplay for To Kill a Mockingbird, won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play The Young Man from Atlantis, won numerous awards and prizes for his contributions to the American stage and screen, won two Academy Awards, numerous accolades for his plays and was awarded The National Medal for the Arts by Bill Clinton in 2000. He was a bit of an American legend.

Red Phoenix’s choice to stage Dividing the Estateis Libby Drake’s first foray into directing a piece of theatre and a very nice job she has made of it too. Drake has assembled a fine cast led by the indomitable Jean Walker. Such a fine stage presence to lead this talented cast is the stroke of genius that allows this piece of work to elevate itself above the ordinary. There is not a wasted moment in Ms Walker’s performance which lifts the show into a whirlwind of passionate responses from the family, and the staff. Stella is the stuff that wealthy matriarchs are made of. Strong, powerful, aware, open, driven and full of the passion of the fading matriarch who knows her days are numbered. The manipulation she demonstrates is a lesson in the wily ways of a woman who knows how to get everyone to do just what she wants. It’s an outstanding performance.

Walker is surrounded by talented artists: Lyn Wilson as Lucille struggling to keep everyone at bay as she fiercely guards her son and his place in the family; Mark Mulders as Son, compassionate, sensitive and frustrated by the expectations everyone in the family has of him; Cate Rogers as the demanding, self-centered, Mary Jo and Lindsay Dunn as the henpecked, driven Bob with Jasmine Leech as Emily  and Nicole Walker as Sissie their spoiled brat children; Brendan Cooney’s lost, desperate, alcohol-fuelled Lewis; and Laura Antoniazzi as Son’s sweet and innocent  school teacher fiancée lost in a world of family rifts, expectations and rivalries. Eliza Bampton plays Lewis’s irritatingly juvenile girlfriend with some very energetic and infectious, nervous energy.

Wayne Anthoney as Doug, Kate Anolak as Mildred and Gabi Rogers as Cathleen make a motley and anxious set of house servants. Arguing amongst themselves and providing an alternative competitive theatre in this house of horrors.

The script is fast paced, relevant and oh so American. The story is epic in proportion and covers jealousy, intrigue, determination, manipulation, sibling rivalry and is, of course, centred around one thing; MONEY, and how to divide it fairly amongst a family who has already overdrawn on the proceeds in oh so many different ways. Foote was described as an American Chekhov and the script reminds one of the works of the great Russian writer.

There are some very solid and clean performances and some tight direction. Kate Prescott’s minimal set is a brilliant sketch of fading opulence and Richard Parkhill’s lighting, as always, adds to the craft of the work overall.

The choice not to use accents was disappointing. The Texan rhythms are still so obvious in the text and half of the very funny lines are lost when the inflections of a Texan accent are missing. If we are constantly going to change history because it is too hard for the audience, then should we be doing the plays?

But this is another very entertaining and interesting piece of work from Red Phoenix. The play is new to us, the author is new to a lot of people and the Red Phoenix company has produced its 10th work that has not been seen on an Adelaide stage before. This Red Phoenix season is all about money and Dividing the Estatecouldn’t have better subject matter.

Reviewed by Adrian Barnes

Venue:  The Studio, 34 Holden Street, Hindmarsh SA 5007

Season: 22 – 24 & 28 – 31 Aug: 7:30pm

Duration:  120 minutes (including 15 min interval)

Tickets: Adult: $25.00, Concession: $19.00, Group: $21.00

Bookings: www.holdenstreettheatres.com

Photo credit: Peta Grace

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