Nothing draws out the worst in a family quite like conflicts over an inheritance. Land, money and, oh, God, jewelry, have a way of reviving old rivalries and resurrecting long-buried grudges.
Horton Foote, an America dramatist who was a master of revealing all sorts of tragic goings-on lurking under the calm domestic surface, lays bare the self-seeking ferocity of otherwise loving brothers and sisters in his superb drama “Dividing the Estate.” This quietly furious work, being presented at the Old Globe with many of the same actors from Michael Wilson’s critically acclaimed 2008 Broadway production, is not just an acute psychological study, it’s a deeply perceptive sociological one as well.
The British would call this a state-of-the-nation play. And indeed, with all the talk of foreclosures, layoffs and the depredations of big business, you’d have reason to think it came hot off the press, but it was first performed in 1989. “Dividing the Estate” takes place in the playwright’s fictionalized hometown of Harrison, Texas, in the late 1980s during a recession in the oil industry. Foote, who died in 2009, had made revisions to the script for its New York premiere, but one of the eye-opening aspects of the play is the way it provides historical depth to our current crises. Yes, 20-odd years ago we were fretting, just as we are today, over how America is becoming a service economy and falling behind more industrious Asian countries as sloth, greed and superficiality threaten to accelerate the pace of decline.