Haydn Radford -A freelance writer born in Adelaide, who loves living here. I write about movies, theatre, entertainment, literary and art events. I am happy to promote & review your events. www.weekendnotes.com/profile/121822
Dividing the Estate is the latest premiere play to be proudly produced by Red Phoenix Theatre at Holden Street Theatres. Adelaide's 'premiere' theatre company is dedicated to producing only plays which have not previously been performed in Adelaide. This includes new works, unexplored classics, and fresh adaptations of great works. Adelaide audiences have obviously welcomed this bold move as performances have been close to beeing booked out before the production opened.
Dividing the Estate is from the creative pen of American play and screenwriter, Horton Foote, Pulitzer Prize winner The Young Man from Atlanta 1994, and Oscar-winning screenwriter of To Kill a Mocking Bird 1962 and Tender Mercies 1983.
Once again, Red Phoenix Theatre explores the theme, Things We Shouldn't Talk About in Polite Company: Politics, Religion, Money and Sex. In 2017 it was Politics, in 2018 it was Religion and 2019 it is all about Money. In this play money is the anticipated inheritance of a dysfunctional family, and how certain members are eager to get their greedy and needy hands on a decreasing family estate.
The play is set on a large Texas cotton farm in 1987 during the financial decline, with cotton prices dropping, property prices in a slump, construction jobs halted, massive job losses and oil and gas prices falling. The once privileged and wealthy Gordon family suffer the prospect of a bleak future. The adult children who have never worked a day in their lives, but managed to mishandle their financial affairs, express their need to divide the estate, which may require the sale of the house and land. The 82-year-old, family matriarch Stella Gordon (Jean Walker) is still alive and she refuses to agree to selling the house or dividing the estate.
Photographer: Peta Grace
There persists considerable discontent between the greedy and quarrelsome family members because some have been receiving large cash advances on the quiet and the estate is now cash-poor though land-rich. Each family member clearly needs to work out what they must do to survive, but the trouble is certain members have predatory expectations as they selfishly struggle to accept times have changed as they discover they need to pay an unexpected tax bill.
As tragic as this story may sound Dividing the Estate is a familiar, dark, satiric and touching drama with subtle and sincere humour. Although the play is set in Texas the story reflects much about life in Australia today.
First-time Director, Libby Drake, has done a fine job of selecting a first-rate cast who present a superior fast-paced performance. While some audience members may find the actors delivering an Australian accent and not a Texas drawl distracting, I found the performances strong and believable. The beautiful subtle lines of humour enriched the performances which were appreciated by the audience.
Jean Walker is outstanding as she leads the cast as the powerful matriarch who senses her days of leading her family are short-lived as she struggles to deal with the depressing financial climate and the continual self-motivated demands of her family. Lyn Wilson as Lucille, battles fearfully to protect her son, Son (Mark Mulders) who manages the family finances and grapples with the continual demands the family members make upon him. He reveals his sincere and sensible concern for the family estate. Lucille's brother Lewis (Brendan Cooney) is convincing as the troubled gambling alcoholic. We see various convincing sides to his character. Cate Rogers as his sister, Mary Jo is spiteful, self-centred and manipulating as she continually struggles to gain her share of the estate. Mary Jo and her husband Bob (Lindsay Dunn) grapple with their financial incompetence due to his poor investments. No surprises with their two daughters, Emily (Jasmine Leech) and Sissie (Nicole Walker) mirroring their mother's behaviour. They are fun to watch as the selfish and self-indulgent siblings who share their plans of spending their parents anticipated inheritance on a trip overseas and an expensive wedding. They mirror their indulgent mother perfectly. Laura Antoniazzi as Pauline, the fiance of Son, is a refreshing and high spirited young woman raised spontaneous chuckles from the audience.
The supporting performances by Wayne Anthoney as Doug, the irritable 92 year old, station-hand (presumed retired), who persists attempting tasks that he is incapable of doing. Kate Anolak as Mildred the cook and Gabi Douglas as Cathleen, as the maid, reveal another side to the drama with their grumpy exchanges showing further dissatisfaction in the lower ranks.
Live Production Design by Kate Prescott was perfect with furniture and fittings and crockery that validates the interior of a wealthy family's home. The lighting by Richard Parkhill added to the atmosphere. Congratulations to the Props personnel who executed the hot meal which spilt across the stage during a lively exchange.
The audience certainly appeared to enjoy the performance very much which was evident during drinks and supper after the show.