Dividing the Estate is a tv sitcom elevated to Broadway. A south Texas family gathers at the family manse to tussle over the large farming estate pinched by encroaching urbanism, a bow to Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. No one in this family is rich any more, some are nearly destitute, and all at one time or another are pushing for Mother to divide the estate so they can get theirs. The Matriarch dominates the dining table and the children, servants, and significant others take their places in equally expectable ways. Even the deaths that occur are totally predictable, as are the jokes.
Why are these characters so involved in irritating one another? References to past relationships are vague: a brief conversation about who Mother and Father may have loved most is blown off. We never understand the roots of the peculiarities of their hostilities, as we do, say, in August: Osage County, so in spite of a few thin laughs one can squeeze from human foibles, all that’s left is type characters squabbling over money. Lacking rich material, the fine cast, headed by Elizabeth Ashley as Stella, the Mother, seem driven to mugging and rolling their eyes a lot in order to keep things going.
Dividing the Estate is presented by Lincoln Center Theater, by arrangement with Primary Stages.