Character-Building: EQUALLY DIVIDED

Photo by Meghan Moore. Pictured: Jill Tanner, Felicity La Fortune, Will Lyman and Anthony Newfield.

Photo by Meghan Moore. Pictured: Jill Tanner, Felicity La Fortune, Will Lyman and Anthony Newfield.

Presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre
by Ronald Harwood
Directed by Charles Towers

February 13th – March 9th, 2014
Lowell, MA
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Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Lowell) Professional baseball player Ichiro Suzuki once got into hot water for saying that when his team is losing year after year he focuses instead on playing for his own individual accomplishments.  To some, it showed selfishness, but to me it showed professionalism.

Professionalism is all that was on stage with the Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s flawed production of Equally Divided.  This play, mired in the no-man’s land between silly farce and family drama, merely spins its wheels, and it’s left to the actors to make the most of it.  While not working together as a cast to make something better from their individual parts, the cast-members each create unique characters who can sometimes be fun to watch on stage.  These are professionals who are making something out of an unraveling play, much as Suzuki used to leg out an infield hit in a lopsided loss.

There is potential in this play’s premise, although playwright Ronald Harwood seems to be content to just scratch the surface.  Edith (Jill Tanner) is picking up the pieces in rural England after her mother’s death.  The dutiful daughter gave up her life caring for the mean woman for over a decade.  Her sister Renata (Felicity La Fortune), who showed little interest in helping while their mother was alive, now wants to see what’s in the will.  Neither have high hopes, as their mother seemed obsessed with spending all her money collecting junk antiques.  But there’s also the issue of a last-minute will that no-one can seem to find.

It’s hard to like any of the characters that we meet, be it the two sisters, their slimy solicitor, Charles (Will Lyman), or the crooked antiques dealer, Fabian (Anthony Newfield).  Edith is a martyr and Renata a narcissist.  Charles at first comes off proper and stately, but soon devolves into a horny old man.  Fabian is Teflon through and through.  Fiction is full of anti-heroes we love, but they need an inner life that we must see, or at least to be really good at being bad.  There was never any peek into the inner life of these characters, nor was there anything unique about them. Such characters could be better suited for a quick-moving and shallow comedy, like Noises Off! or Lend Me a Tenor, but it makes a family drama meaningless.

This play might resonate for those who have been through such family dramas, but I thankfully have been spared this trial of life so far.  Instead, I was left to ponder the entertaining English accents and the comedic beats and pregnant pauses the actors embraced with relish.  It’s too bad their individual efforts didn’t lead to something better.

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