Divided Among Themselves
"Divided Among Themselves," the new play by Hank Kimmel at the Academy Theatre, is a fascinating drama that isn't quite jelled yet, but offers a lot of promise. Clearly, Hank Kimmel is a skilled dramatist, and the tantalizing family drama offers a lively smorgasbord, but Mr. Kimmel needs to take it from being a good play to being a great play.
The story, about four sisters who come together to try to divide up their late father's estate, is a rich dramatic premise. These characters are all very different -- a rabbi, a gambler, a tycoon, and a flower child --and watching the sparks fly between them offers the most satisfying, meaty part of the story.
All of the performances were top quality. The actors were clearly no amateurs; they were quite skilled and made the most of the material.
Although the play is well worth seeing, it did have some flaws in the writing. The play needs to be expanded and deepened. There are many interesting characters, and hints of fascinating actions which are intriguing, but the dramatic arcs need to be burned brightly into one's imagination, and that's not happening just yet.
The father's character is quite intriguing. He is presumably a retired union worker in a modest apartment, but he has amassed $650,000 to divide among his children. There are hints that he was involved in some sort of union corruption, but that thread is never really explored.
The lawyer who represents the estate is supposedly a shady character, but he is too one-dimensional to be much of a menace. Both characters are played by the same actor, Joe McLaughlin, who does a fine job, but the piece would've been stronger if different actors had been used. Perhaps Kimmel had McLaughlin playing both parts precisely to make a point.
One could envision all the sisters uniting to fight this evil lawyer, but this didn't come to surface. Instead, the ending felt rushed, and a bit confusing.
Samantha, the daughter who is the rabbi, was supposedly the father's primary caretaker in his final years, the pivotal character around which all the other characters revolve. With this background, she needed a more definite point to make. Like the line from Willy Loman, "Attention must be paid," Samantha needs a better character arc, or at least a more defined one.
At the end of the play there was not much of a change in Samantha, although her final speech, in which she's conversing with her dead father, is interesting. It should be more memorable. It should be powerful and moving.
The other sisters are fairly one-dimensional. The tycoon is hard and cold. The flower child is goofy. The gambler is an intriguing character and probably the most interesting one. She's the one who agitates the most, probably because she has the most to lose or gain by the outcome.
In all fairness, we do actually hear about uncharacteristic actions by both the flower child and the tycoon, but we need to hear more for them to be fully realized characters.
But when all is said and done, you will wonder how you could watch these four women and not learn anything at all about their love lives. They are all in their 30's and 40's. Are they married? Boyfriends or girlfriends? Gay or straight? Children? These questions demand answers.
"Divided Among Ourselves" is a character piece, with not enough time spent letting the audience know about the characters. The conflicts are tepid, and there is no evidence of the shorthand that only comes from growing up together. The four sisters seemed too different; worlds apart. (My grandmother was one of seven sisters and I used to marvel at how she and her sisters talked around each other.)
The set could have been utilized better. There's a lot of dialogue about the grandfather clock, but in the end it's just a piece of furniture, despite two somewhat interesting speeches about how it affected the lives of the two youngest girls. Also, the door to the clock kept popping open, which makes one think that in the end, there would be something hidden there that would be really interesting. There wasn't.
Although I enjoyed the play very much and I appreciated the fine performances, I would really like to see "Divided Among Themselves" expanded and deepened. It has a lot of potential.
"Divided Among Themselves" runs through October 16 at the Academy Theatre, 119 Center St. in Avondale Estates. For info or tickets call 404-474-8332 or visit academytheatre.org/