note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Sheila Barth
An exceptional cast dominates British prolific playwright-screenplay writer Ronald Harwood’s clever two-act comedy, “Equally Divided,” at Merrimack Repertory Theatre. But there are only a few days left to see this entertaining, don’t-miss production.The play closes on Sunday.
You probably recognize Harwood’s name from his 2003 Academy Award-winning screenplay, of Roman Polanski’s film, “The Pianist,” and several of his other works. Harwood was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2010 for his services to drama.
Merrimack’s own master, Artistic Director-Director Charles Tower, nicely balances Harwood’s quartet of lonely, dysfunctional characters, whose contrasting personalities emerge and erupt full-blown.
Set on a gray February day in 1998 in set designer Bill Clarke’s strikingly depressing living room cluttered with antique, bric-a-brac dust-catchers, the play revolves around the death of an elderly, miserable, bed-ridden woman with a glass eye, who lavished attention on her younger, attractive daughter, Renata, but ignored and emotionally abused her older, steadfast, pragmatic daughter, Edith. Renata married and divorced two husbands, globe-trotted, and was left well off by her second husband, while Edith was stuck in the family’s dismal house for the past 15 years, caring daily for her unappreciative mother.
And the last three years were hell on earth for Edith, who had to wheel her mother around in an old-style, wheelchair, and attend the old woman’s every beck and call when she became bedridden.
As the play opens, the day of reckoning has arrived. The mother’s poorly-attended funeral is over, and the solicitor,Charles Mowbray, is coming to read the mother’s will.
Edith is especially anxious, because she has sacrificed her career and life for her mother. She’s worried about her future, which is reliant on her mother’s will.
While Edith searches the house for a note her mother wrote in her final days, Mowbray announces the terms of the will - that everything is to be equally divided between Edith and Renata.
Edith also had her eye on the lonely, widowed solicitor,but he has both eyes - and his total attention - riveted on sexy, worldly Renata.
Versatile actor Will Lyman as Mowbray is delightful as he blushes and bumbles along in Renata’s presence, and Jill Tanner is superb as uptight Edith Taylor. Garbed in black, Edith walks around stiffly, clenching her fists deep inside her cardigan pockets, disgustedly watching Renata’s blowsy demeanor, which actress Felicity LaFortune liberally exudes. Anthony Newfield adds a touch of class and “dishonest honesty” as former-actor, antiques dealer Fabian Hill, who forms a secret alliance with Edith. Hill, who confides much about himself, including that he admires Edith’s hands, has a thing for hands and all handmade items, is disarmed by Edith’s honesty,integrity and resolve, and she is charmed by him. As he appraises and evaluates her mother’s antiques collection behind Renata’s back, the two have formed a mutual admiration alliance.
Thing is, is Fabian for real, or a con man, and is Edith now in cahoots, finally getting her “just desserts”?
BOX INFO: Two-act moral comedy, by Ronald Harwood, appearing to March 9, in the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre, at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 50 E. Merrimack St., Lowell, March 5, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; March 6, at 7:30 p.m.; March 7, at 8 p.m.; March 8, at 4,8 p.m.; March 9, at 2 p.m. Check for related events. Tickets: $20-$60. Seniors, 10 percent discount; students pay $15; group tickets available at 978-654-7561. For more information, visit MRT.org or call the Box Office at 978-654-4678.