Dividing the Estate

Gregg Weiner as Son, Rob Donohoe as Lewis and Margery Lowe as Pauline, Son’s fiance. Photo by Alicia Donelan

   Palm Beach Dramaworks Producing Artistic Director Bill Hayes took the theater’s stage March 28 with a mixed look of pride and relief to introduce the opening-night performance of Dividing the Estate.

   It is the 14-year-old company’s seventieth production—“and I’m very tired,” Hayes announced with a smile to a chuckling audience.

   The laughter continued throughout the evening with Dramaworks’ interpretation of Horton Foot’s award-winning play. Revived in 2007 after premiering in 1989, Dividing the Estate is the comedic story of the Gordon family’s attempts to settle the historic Texas estate owned by matriarch Stella. The grand old home and the hundreds of acres it sits on are expected to be worth millions now that it’s 1987, yet Stella refuses to sell—while her three children and nephew bicker about how to secure their anticipated personal inheritance.

   “I’m sure none of you will relate to the play at all,” Hayes told the audience with a wink.

   Dramaworks is known for its high caliber of acting, and the cast of Dividing the Estate upholds the nonprofit’s reputation. Each role’s personality is different and presented with believable portrayal: Among the characters are strong-headed Stella; Mary Jo, her proud daughter; Lewis, her drunk son; Lucille, her complacent daughter; Son, her scholarly nephew responsible for the family’s finances; and Doug, the wobbly-legged yet stubborn 91-year-old servant who refuses to retire. Each, and others, comes to life with the expected qualities of a Baptist Texan, including southern mannerisms and a strong dialect, which none performer has naturally. As they debate and interact, the mixed-personality dynamics of the Gordons and their staff are conveyed so realistically that the tension, although humorous, is uncomfortably relatable and palpable (in a good way).

Weiner, Avery Sommers as Mildred, Deltoiya Goodman as Cathleen and John Archie as Doug. Photo by Alicia Donelan

   The play isn’t hysterical but certainly draws laughter, at least at the expense of those fabulous ’80s costumes and hairstyles. Like Stella, who takes careful steps with a cane, the first act moves a little slowly, but the play quickens after the intermission. Each characters’ motives for wanting a piece of the family fortune becomes more understandable as the plot develops, and soon even the audience is dying to know: How much will each Gordon get?

   In attendance of the full house of the opening night of Dividing the Estate was former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, whom Hayes acknowledged as a prominent force in securing the nonprofit’s location at the former Cuillo Centre for the Arts on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach. Dramaworks began renting and renovating the building in 2010, moved in the following year and has been making payments to purchase the theater.

   Also present was award-winning actor Joel Grey, best known for his roles of the master of ceremonies in Cabaret and the wizard in Wicked. At the end of the play, he addressed the audience with a plea to raise money for the Actors Fund, a nonprofit that assists performing arts individuals with services such as housing, health care and training.

   “Anybody want to donate some big numbers—for a song?” he asked. Dollar bills were quickly shoved into his pocket, and Grey thanked patrons by singing lines from “Willkommen” from Cabaret.

   Grey’s appearance was a one-night affair, but Dividing the Estate runs through April 27. Tickets are $60. (561-414-4042)


The entire cast of Dividing the Estate.

Photo by Alicia Donelan

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