Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Most Deserving

Catherine Trieschmann's new play, The Most Deserving, aspires to be both entertaining and significant. It is completely successful in the former regard, and not so much in the latter.

Kristin Griffith, Veanne Cox
A small arts council in Kansas has a $20,000 grant to bestow to an artist who "must demonstrate both artistic excellence and financial need and should preferably be an underrepresented American voice." Jolene, the founder and fierce protector of the arts council, wants the grant to go to a local artist who is one eighth Native American--or is it one sixteenth? Liz, an assistant professor of art, wants the grant to go to Everett, a paraplegic African-American who makes art out of garbage--but Everett hasn't applied, and the deadline has passed. Edie, who funded the grant from her late husband's fortune, turns out to be surprisingly slippery as Jolene and Liz vie for her vote. Ted, Jolene's husband, is mostly interested in getting Liz's attention. Dwayne, unemployed and in desperate need of cash, wants to receive the grant himself, despite fitting none of the requirements.

The show's lively 90 minutes are stuffed with broken allegiances, revealed secrets, and bad behavior. Is the play trying to show us the parochialism of the Mid West? Perhaps, but the setup is a bit by the numbers, and the characters aren't convincing as actual people. The one point the show does make brilliantly, however, is never to think that grants (or jobs, for that matter) are bestowed to "the most deserving"--or that the logic behind the ultimate decision has anything to do with, well, logic.

Trieschmann is well-served by efficient direction by Shelley Butler and a talented and game cast, led by the wonderful Veanne Cox, who gives the best massage you are ever likely to see in a play. The cast navigates the play's twists and turns with aplomb and makes the most of Trieschmann's genuinely funny situations and dialogue. Whatever its flaws, The Most Deserving is a great deal of fun.

(8th row, press ticket)

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