Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 9, 2009

Dividing the Estate

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through July 5, 2009
by Shera Cohen

Broadway comes to Hartford in the package "Dividing the Estate." This tragicomedy was nominated as one of Tony Awards best plays of the year and The New York Times pick among the10 Best Plays of 07/08. The entire play and nearly the full cast was lifted up and placed at Hartford Stage without skipping a beat. In fact, Michael Wilson's direction is the essence of perfect timing of actors reacting to each other and movement on stage. In addition, the 1980s Recession somewhat mirrors today's economic times.

To write that "Estate's" characters depict a dysfunctional family is too broad and simple. Is not every family a bit dysfunctional? The location is the home of the extended Gordon clan. They employ African-American servants who, from the start, let it be known that they are equals to their bosses. Plot points include sibling rivalry, greed, shallowness, death, and selfishness. Doesn't sound too funny, but it is one of the best black comedies written (by the late Horton Foote) in many years.

It is difficult to single out any particular performance in this ensemble cast. Watch the actors whose turn it is to speak, and watch the others who are silent and even seated in the corner. Do they react in character? That's one sign of an excellent production. Wilson makes sure that every person and piece of furniture has a purpose at every moment. Speaking of furnishings, Scenic Designer Jeff Cowie deserves and did receive special kudos from his opening night audience; the scrim lifted to reveal a majestic plantation home to great applause.

All difficulty aside, some actors must be recognized as superb. Arthur French (Doug) portrays a delightful nonagenarian whose moments onstage are precious. Hallie Foote's "Sister" (yes, characters call each other Sister, Son, Mother-in-Law) sparkles annoyingly with fast one-liners in her steadfast avarice. Gerald McRaney depicts Brother/Uncle with an unexpected poignancy.

About 200 floor seats were added in the theatre in anticipation of large audiences. That was a smart decision, as every chair was needed for the full house. Hartford Stage should take a bow as it ends this 2008/09 season as one of their best in decades.