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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Entitlement, Greed, Humor:

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Dividing the Estate
by Horton Foote
Thalian Hall Main Stage
310 Chestnut St.
2/3-6, 8 p.m.; Sun. matinee, 3 p.m.
Tickets: $25

theater

ANOTHER SEASON PREMIERE: (l. to r.) Michelle Vollmer, Skip Maloney, Lori Winner and Chris Brown star in Horton Foote’s ‘Dividing the Estate.’ Photo by Chris Ochs

Anybody who’s ever been part of a family or who has dealt with more than one sibling, can certainly relate to this play,” Laurene Perry, director of Thalian Association’s “Dividing the Estate,” says with a chuckle. Continuing with their seasons of premieres, Thalian is bringing Horton Foote’s 1989 award-winning production to life for one weekend only. Perry and her cast members have been working diligently for the past month to ensure perfect delivery from the hilarious screenplay.

With several characters and situations similar to the short-lived but highly quirky TV sitcom “Arrested Development,” the rollicking play features situational humor based around a dysfunctional family in 1987 small-town Texas. In an economy souring due to the ‘80s savings and loan crisis, along with declining oil prices, three squabbling siblings seek comfort in the values they anticipate to inherit when they divide their family estate. The children’s differing personalities contribute to the progression of the humor throughout: There’s Lewis (Skip Maloney), a ne’er-do-well alcoholic with a bad reputation in the town; the sweet and respectable Lucille (Michelle Vollmer); and the social-ladder climbing, status defined Mary Jo (Lori Winner). When the siblings become increasingly greedy over dividing the estate of matriarch Stella (Chris Brown), guarded family secrets are brought to light and several surprises unfold, leaving everyone in sticky situations.

“They all are very distinct characters,” Perry reveals. “They bump heads a lot. They all vie for attention, as siblings do, and they’re still doing it in their adult years.”

Patrons can identify with many aspects of this play—an economy far from its prime, a Southern town and family issues. The stresses that arrive from it may hit close to home but not without a few exaggerated funnies.

“It’s a recession time, which certainly in some ways mirrors what’s going on now,” Perry says. “Of course it’s magnified, but in a way, [the family problems] are a reflection of what many of us have had to live through. So, I think that the audience will find themselves in one of the characters for sure, if not in one of the siblings.”
Since money remains at the forefront of the plot, the uneasy characteristics inherent in human behavior shine, too. Though not a serious character piece, insightful subtleties become apparent.

“This is all about greed, but I like to call it ‘entitlement,’” Perry says with a laugh, “‘cause it sounds better. It is about children who grow up believing from day one that, at some point, they will be rich. Therefore, they have spent their entire lives waiting for the day that it will come to them, only to find that maybe it’s not such an easy deal to have it come to them, and they have to work for it after all. Waiting around for the present to arrive at the door is not such a good thing, ‘cause you lose a lot of your life that way.”

Kevin Wilson, who plays Lucille’s composed, responsible son, appropriately named “Son,” says that one of the most important factors in the play is change and how people deal with it. The trials, tribulations and even victories that arise from it add to our lifelong lessons.

“Adapting to inevitable change is key,” he says. “Each member of the family is challenged to accept certain amounts of change that they weren’t prepared for. When you have to face great change like that, it makes you question where you loyalty lies and how loyal you’re going to be to your family.”

Perry, who has done many musicals in the past, was drawn to the idea of adapting a Horton Foote screenplay in particular. In fact, his work hasn’t been explored on local stages. “Since the death of Tennessee Williams, [Foote] is certainly the Southern playwright,” she says. “[And] I love to work with relatively small casts in non-musical productions. I like the character work that’s in a straight play or comedy that you don’t get in a musical. The depth is very rewarding.”

Thalian Hall presents “Dividing the Estate” Thursday through Saturday, February 3rd through 5th at 8 p.m. and Sunday, February 6th at 3 p.m. Tickets can be purchased through etix.com or by calling 910-632-2285; $25 each.

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