Horton Foote, who died at 92 in 2009, was one of the most prolific and respected screenwriters and playwrights of recent times. His most famous work was the screenplay for the great movie, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Among his works for the stage were “The Trip to Bountiful,” “The Young Man from Atlanta” and the People’s Light and Theatre Company’s current offering, “Dividing the Estate.”
His stories are all set in the South and deal with the interaction among people facing crises in their lives. In the case of “Dividing the Estate,” the characters are members of Stella Gordon’s family or the people who work for her.
Stella (Carla Belver) is the matriarch of a large Harrison, Texas, estate that is land-rich and cash-poor. Her three children — Lucille (Marcia Saunders), Lewis (Graham Smith) and Mary Jo (Kathryn Petersen) — all face different challenges. Lucille is a widow who lives with her mother and manages the house; Lewis is unmarried and occasionally drunk; Mary Jo is a nitwit whose family has financial problems.
All of them are beholden to Stella’s estate, managed by Lucille’s son, “Son” (Christian Pedersen), who is engaged to Pauline (Amy Hutchins), a local school teacher who is apparently much better suited to him than was his first wife.
In this mix we also meet Mary Jo’s fast-talking husband, Bob (Greg Wood), and their two daughters, Sissie (Elena Bossler) and Emily (Victoria Frings). The household has a three-person staff led by the ancient Doug (Lou Ferguson) and also including Mildred (Cathy Simpson) and Cathleen (Aimé Kelly).
The family’s main concern is the estate, what to do with it, whether or not to divide it up now, before Stella dies, and what to do after she’s gone, which she conveniently is three-quarters of the way through the play.
Like the other Foote works with which I’m familiar, this is pretty talky. The talk is interesting, and the characters are fully drawn. While there is some action, this is a play about the inter-personal relationships among the characters.
The People’s Light production, directed by Abigail Adams, is basically a sound one. The always reliable and impressive Carla Belver, Marcia Saunders and Greg Wood give terrific performances, as do Graham Smith and Kathryn Petersen, the latter as a most unappealing character.
The rest of the cast is OK, although Elena Bossler and Victoria Frings make Mary Jo and Bob’s two twenty-something daughters into really unattractive caricatures.
As the old black retainer, Doug, Lou Ferguson is magnificent.
The physical production is a thing of beauty. Tony Straiges has designed a stunning interior for the mansion, which is lighted beautifully by Dennis Parichy. Colleen Muscha’s costumes and Christopher Colucci’s sound are both very good.
“Dividing the Estate” is in many ways an old-fashioned play, one in which interesting people talk about interesting subjects. It’s not going to wow you but it certainly should satisfy, and that really makes this a play and a production worth spending time with.
For tickets to the People’s Light and Theatre Company production of Horton Foote’s “Dividing the Estate,” which plays through June 5, call 610-644-3500 or visit www.peopleslight.org
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