Family dysfunction sets stage for 'Dividing the Estate' - East Valley Tribune: West Valley

Family dysfunction sets stage for 'Dividing the Estate'

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Posted: Friday, April 29, 2011 12:42 pm | Updated: 2:51 pm, Wed May 4, 2011.

Jacqueline Gaston is no stranger to Southern matriarch roles. She portrayed the title character in Theater Works’ and Algonquin Theater’s 2009 production of “Driving Miss Daisy.”

But instead of a Georgia accent, she’ll slip on a Texas dialect as the head of a family for the Arizona premiere of “Dividing the Estate,” at Theater Works.

“It’s a juicy role for me, but the challenge will be not making her one-dimensional and the typical domineering and mean matriarch,” Gaston said.

Gaston said she’s excited for local audiences to see the play for the first time and believes people will identify right away with the theme — family dysfunction.

“Everybody is going to recognize these characters,” Gaston said. “We all have a little bit of dysfunction in our lives, and seeing it on stage helps give insight for us.”

Daniel Schay, who directs “Dividing the Estate,” agrees with Gaston.

“These are real people and very real situations,” Schay said. “Some people will walk away saying, ‘I know those folks,’ and others will say, ‘Thank God my family is not like that.’”

“Dividing the Estate” follows the Gordons circa 1987 in the fictional town of Harrison, Texas. They are ruled by tough matriarch Stella, played by Gaston, and must prepare for an uncertain future and negative tax bill that could affect the family fortune.

Then Stella’s children have to decide whether to divide the estate while their mother is still alive to ensure them financial independence.

In 2009, “Dividing the Estate” debuted on Broadway and was nominated for two Tony awards. Written by “To Kill a Mockingbird” screenwriter Horton Foote, the play often has been compared to another famous dysfunctional family show, “August: Osage County.”

For Gaston, the Gordons in “Dividing the Estate” are similar to family she has in Texas.

“I have a whole lot of kinfolk in Texas and see them in this family, particularly with the pride they display and how they’re holding on to the values they’ve had for generations,” Gaston said.

“This play has more of a comedic tone than ‘August: Osage County,’ but still people love to see shows about family dynamics and drama,” Schay said.

Schay also said many people will identify with the theme of wills and estates, particularly those in the Sun Cities.

“The plot of wealth and how you’re going to divide things not only affects families, but states, nations and species,” said Schay, who directed Dale Wasserman’s “Premiere” in 2009 at Theater Works. “It’s universal to all of us.”

Mitchell Vantrease may be reached at 623-876-2527 or

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