GEORGE WEST – It’s probably safe to say you probably won’t think about wealth the same way again.
At least, not in a good way.
Horton Foote’s play “Dividing The Estate” — as interpreted by the sharp and rich performances of the Dobie West Performing Arts Theatre performers this past weekend — will really wear you out.
The burden of family money is relayed very effectively in this two-act play, whose author won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1965.
And really? You’ll probably be familiar with the circumstances of the play. Its theme closely mirrors the activities currently taking place in the Eagle Ford Shale area.
This past week’s production, incidentally, was put together in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the city of George West.
Author Foote is best known for his screenplays for “Tender Mercies” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
A word of caution: This descent into the lives of the Gordon family, a family whose wealth for generations has been derived from inherited land, can be a dizzying experience for the theatre patron.
It’s important to understand that greedy Gordon family members have borrowed and borrowed and borrowed from the family fortune ad nauseam over the years. They have no realistic idea of how much money is still contained in the estate.
But the time has come to pay the piper. This play, based in 1987, takes place at a time when the Texas economy had taken a downturn because of decreased agriculture income and inflation, and, well … money just ain’t what it used to be.
The family’s central debate: Should they divide the estate while their mother is still alive in order to ensure themselves financial independence? Mother certainly won’t agree to do it, but she won’t be around forever.
The reality of the situation: Is there any real money left in the estate at all? Or has it all been squandered away?
Glynis Holm Strause’s strong directing manages to expertly weave together the threads of a compelling tale — with very strong performances by all.
(Unfortunately, what this means is audience members will probably end up hating at least some of these characters.)
Mary Ann Pawlik, who portrays grandmother and family matriarch Stella, delivers an excellent performance as she presides over this cat’s cradle of malcontent personalities that is her family.
(Pawlik, incidentally, received a much-deserved standing ovation at the conclusion of the play.)
As Stella’s alcoholic and possibly bipolar son Lewis, Jarrod Richter is REALLY fun to watch, providing both dramatic tension at times and comedic relief at others.
The complacent daughter Lucille, played by Mary Joy, is pit against her deliciously predatory sister Mary Jo, played by Mauri MJ Joy, in a scary tug of war over who gets what.
(What really makes this interesting is that, in real life, Mary Joy and Mauri MJ Joy are mother and daughter.)
One has to wonder about what effect this kind of family can have on its children. What kind of children would someone as devious and greedy as Mary Jo, for instance, actually produce?
These would probably be children who have heard their loved ones continually plot against one another in an endless loop of “I want my money” played over and over again their entire lives.
Kayla Strause and Blayne Huston, as Mary Jo’s daughters Emily and Sissie, provide excellent examples of innocents whose lives have been poisoned by greed instead of nurtured by love.
Chaz Elliot plays estate caretaker Son, Lucille’s beloved grandson. His character provides the glue that holds the cast together.
Like his cousins Emily and Sissie, Son has had to deal with unending greed his entire life. But unlike his cousins, Son refuses to let greed define him. He is trying with every fiber of his body to do the right thing and hold the family together both morally and financially.
Kudos to Ann Snuggs and Mackey Alvarez for their cute performances as Mildred the cook and the maid. Joseph Moore adds to the dramatic tapestry as Bob, Mary Jo’s equally greedy husband. Janae Friedelle is interesting as Pauline, Son’s fiance, who has to suffer through the greedy overtures of her soon-to-be in-laws.
Ellen Nance provides a touch of young humor as Lewis’ young Whataburger-working YOUNG girlfriend Irene.
Special kudos to Don Martin, who successfully tackles a very difficult role as Doug, the family’s VERY elderly servant who is facing the end of his life — and reaches it before the play is over.
All in all? A fantastic production.
Ultimately, money does change everything. And the Dobie West Performing Arts Center cast deals with that subject in “Dividing The Estate” so you don’t have to.
Ben Tinsley is a reporter for The Progress newspaper in Three Rivers. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 361-786-3022. Tinsley can also be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BenTinsley, Google at http://plus.google.com/+BenTinsley or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ben.tinsley.12.