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THEATER REVIEW: The Old Globe stages Horton Foote's “Dividing The Estate”

A confession: I find family squabbles about the distribution of wealth and possessions about as fascinating as watching paint dry.

Horton Foote’s last play, “Dividing The Estate,” falls into that category.

Best known for his Oscar-winning screenplays for “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Tender Mercies” and his fine script for the play “A Trip To Bountiful,” Foote is practically an unknown quantity on San Diego stages.

The Old Globe, which has never produced one of his plays, offers the West Coast premiere of “Dividing The Estate” through Feb. 12, directed by Michael Wilson.

It’s 1987 in small-town Harrison, Texas, and 80-something matriarch Stella Gordon (Elizabeth Ashley) is trying to fend off frequent pleas from two of her three children to sell the property and distribute the proceeds pronto.

Harrison, a former farming community, has over the years has been losing farms, open spaces and population to freeways and fast-food restaurants.

But place still has symbolic value for Stella, who lives on the family’s 10-acre property with daughter Lucille (Penny Fuller), grandson Son (Devon Abner), who acts as administrator, and their three black servants: 92-year-old Doug (Roger Robinson), Mildred (Pat Bowie) and Cathleen (Keiana Richard).

It’s money that interests son Lewis (Horton Foote Jr.) and married daughter Mary Jo (the playwright’s daughter, Hallie Foote), tired of having to ask Son for handouts from their inheritance. Lewis, unable to hold a job, is among other things a gambler with a drinking habit. Mary Jo, a nervous, screechy harridan who lives in Houston with husband Bob (James DeMarse) and their two spoiled-brat daughters Emily (Jenny Dare Paulin) and Sissie (Nicole Lowrance), likes to live beyond her means.

It’s a quarrelsome family, not to mention greedy and small-minded, none of them apparently capable of getting what they want. Perhaps it’s because nearly all of them suffer from entitlement syndrome.

Stella, Lucille and Son are the only ones who seem happy with the situation as is. Son has, in fact, brought his new girlfriend, high school teacher Pauline (Kelly McAndrew) to meet the family.

You hope some of them will at least stop kvetching long enough to exchange pleasantries with the guest, but singlemindedness wins out, and Pauline’s attempts to change the subject from family gossip and money fall on deaf ears.

This play bills itself as a comedy, but plays more like a sitcom, full of repetitive and boring arguments, outsized (and stereotypical) characters who in some cases are grossly overplayed, and ending in a “resolution” you’d expect from a TV show.

I suppose one could argue that everyone knows some of these characters. Perhaps, but not many would want to spend an evening with them. I found myself wondering why poor Pauline didn’t flee.

But if you’ve ever wondered what we might have gotten had Chekhov decided to write “The Cherry Orchard” as a sitcom,“Dividing The Estate” will give you a good idea.

The details

“Dividing The Estate” plays through Feb. 12 at The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.

Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call (619) 234-5623 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.