The Gorden Clan, Helpmates and Hangers-On
By Skip Sheffield
Houston is my least favorite city in one of my least favorite states.
Maybe that’s why I enjoyed the biting satire of “Dividing the Estate;” a play by Horton Foote about people behaving very badly, running through April 27 for Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach.
“Dividing the Estate’ is set in 1987 in the fictional Houston suburb of Harrison, Texas. The setting is in a big old house that 100 years ago was the center of a ranch of several thousand acres. Stella Gordon (Mary Stout) the octogenarian matriarch, lives with her daughter Lucille (Elizabeth Dimon) and Son (Gregg Weiner) with longtime family maid Mildred (Avery Sommers) and butler Doug (John Archie). A city has grown up around the ranch, which has been whittled down to 1,000 acres. The Gordon clan is eager to cash out before the real estate market crashes. As the family is introduced I was reminded of a play by fellow Southerner Tennessee Williams. “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” had greedy, mendacious characters trying to cash in on the wealth of a patriarch called Big Daddy.
Stella Gordon could be called Big Momma as deftly portrayed by Broadway veteran Mary Stout. Stella is clearly the sharpest knife in the drawer of this clan, but she is reaching the end of the trail. No one knows this better than Mary Jo (Kim Cozort), the conniving wife of spineless Bob (Ken Kay). This is one of the funniest performances ever by Ms. Cozort, who can play high drama and low farce and sings like a bird in the bargain. She doesn’t get to sing in this role, but clearly she enjoys playing a mendacious, insincere schemer who has already wheedled a $300,000 advance from dear old mom.
Lewis (Rob Donohoe) is not much better. He is an unrepentant drunk who has also hit up mom for $200,000 and still needs more.
Lucille (Elizabeth Dimon) is not as overtly greedy as the others, but she clearly wants her fair share.
That’s enough for the plot, which has a gratifying twist at the end.
Director William Hayes wields a large cast of players that each adds their two cents to a satisfying whole. “Dividing the Estate’ is not as important as Foote’s most famous works “The Trip to Bountiful” or “Tender Mercies,” but it sure is a lot funnier. With so many wealthy older folks retired down here, with family members yapping at the family fortune as real estate fluctuates, I can see why Hayes chose this play. Good show.
Tickets are $60 with student and educator discounts available. Call 561-514-4042 or go to www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.