Friday, November 21, 2008

Critics Undivided In Praise Of Estate

Critics Undivided In Praise Of Estate

Last night, Horton Foote's Off-Broadway hit Dividing The Estate opened at Broadway's Booth Theatre. Directed by Michael Wilson, the Lincoln Center Theatre presentation stars Elizabeth Ashley, Hallie Foote, Arthur French, Penny Fuller and Gerald McRaney. Critics were fairly united in their positive reviews.

Calling the show "tart and delicious," The New York Times' Ben Brantley praises, singling out the playwright's own daughter for special attention: "As played with true comic genius by Hallie Foote, the covetous, calculating Mary Jo has absolutely no sense of humor. But it’s hard to think of anyone on a Broadway stage right now ... who’s funnier.... [E]ven without the gloss of relevance it has acquired since its New York premiere Off Broadway in September 2007, Dividing the Estate would still be a must for discriminating theatergoers. This production -- which arrives with most of its original cast, directed with hair-trigger timing by Michael Wilson -- has ripened into an ideally balanced ensemble piece, with acting that matches and magnifies Mr. Foote’s slyly and acutely observant writing."

Noting that the "deeply humanistic and funny play is old-fashioned in the best sense," New York Post's Frank Scheck awards three-and-a-half stars out of four: "Director Michael Wilson's assured production features a wonderful ensemble cast whose seamless work feels even more lived-in than it did earlier. It's easy to believe that this loving but endlessly bickering clan would drive themselves crazy if they failed to live up to the task of the play's title.... While all of the performances are first-rate, special praise must be reserved for Hallie Foote, the playwright's daughter."

Labeling the show a "sweetly satirical comedy," Variety's David Rooney is charmed: "The well-worn scenario is familiar from more than one chestnut of Southern drama. But the playwright's work, as always, is distinguished by the delicate brushstrokes of his characterizations, making seasoned stereotypes human and giving even the most venal of them some hint of redeeming vulnerability. Perhaps even more essential to the old-fashioned play's appeal is Foote's deep understanding of the personalities within a precisely defined subculture.... Under Michael Wilson's decorous direction, the cast has deepened its ties while maintaining the light touch, the relaxed flow and the melodiousness of the talk that are essential to Foote's plays."

Relieved that the play is "blessedly unchanged" from its earlier incarnation, Bloomberg's John Simon offers laurels: "A very late play such as “Dividing the Estate” is easily as good as, if not better than, his best earlier work.... Dividing the Estate will draw you into its drawing room and the shadows beyond with the theatrical equivalent of a page- turner, capturing your undivided attention as you hang on its teasing turmoil in guiltlessly glad complicity.

Concluding that "It's not as profound or ambitious as Broadway's other multigenerational melee, August: Osage County, but Foote's fine play does go down easy," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News provides three-and-a-half stars out of five: "Under the deft direction of Michael Wilson, the actors are keener and the handsome production feels tighter. The drastic economic turndown, meanwhile, has given the situation tearing at the needy, greedy Gordon clan an even tangier bite.... Stage vet Ashley is highly amusing, even if she is about two decades too young to play an 85-year-old."

Looks like the show is clearly a winner. Look for it to receive multiple Tony nominations next spring.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 21 November, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

I'm so glad it got great reviews. I really loved this show - it's hilarious and true to life in so many ways. The ensemble cast is wonderful but I especially enjoyed Hallie Foote's performance. I'd never seen her before and she was awesome. What a revelation!


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