By: Lauren Yarger
What’s It All About?
The Arts Council of a small Kansas town considers candidates for the largest grant award it ever has received — $20,000. But who is the most deserving? Is it the son
of a local politician who can make or break the council’s existence with his power over its budget? Is it council member Dwayne Dean (Adam LeFevre) whose series of vice-presidential portraits fails to stir passion even when he claims minority status as part homosexual to be eligible for the grant (he needs the money after being laid off from his auto sales job)?
Or is is Everett Whiteside (Ray Anthony Thomas), an African-American with some social challenges who is about to be evicted from his home for back taxes, but who has a visionary eye when it comes to trash art? That’s the question for the council, headed by officious Jolene Atkinson (Veanne Cox), her dominated husband, Ted (Daniel Pearce) who has lost interest in his marriage, rich widow, and sometimes drunk Edie Kelch (Kristin Griffith), who uses her late husband’s donation of $10,000 to match the original grant as leverage, and its newest member, Liz Chung (Jennifer Lin), who advocates for Whiteside despite the councils initial lack of interest because his work moves her, especially an angel made out of "found objects." The fact that she wants to cap off her academic studies with a doctorate in art history by profiling him in her book has nothing to do with her support, she insists. Things get even more dicey when Ted and Liz begin an affair and everyone starts bargaining for votes on who will receive the grant.
What are the Highlights?
Catherine Trieschmann (crooked and How The World Began) is a playwright to watch. She is skilled at bringing true-to-life characters to the stage with witty dialogue in situations we can relate to while causing us to try to wipe the grin off of our faces. If you ever have dealt with an arts organization, a small town committee — or any committee for that matter — you will recognize one or more of these people depicted by a strong ensemble cast. Trieschmann nicely weaves the grant question and its politics with the personal life situations that give the term "deserving" a whole new meaning.
Sharp prop and set changes (designed by David M. Barber) are made with polish by cast and crew with guitar music (sound design by Leon Rothernberg) and keep the 95-minute, no intermission piece moving at a brisk pace. Costumes by Donald Sanders help define each character (and I especially loved the look of art professor Chang.)
What Are the Lowlights?
One scene needs editing as the pace slows and dialogue seems less sharp. Some actors were tripping up on their lines. Cox needs to bring down the yelling a notch. We get that Jolene is uptight and domineering without needing her to yell everything. In fact, Director Shelley Butler might have discovered more nuance for the character by asking for a less stringent tone.
The Most Deserving runs through May 4 at NY City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30 pm with matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 pm. Tickets: www.NYCityCenter.org; 212-581-1212
***The Most Deserving
By Catherine Trieschmann
Directed by Shelley Butler
The Women’s Project Theatre
Photo: Carol Rosegg
Follow Us On Facebook