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A CurtainUp Review
The Most Deserving
By Joyce Friedland

Maybe but isn't great art supposed to provoke? —Liz:
Not in Kansas.—Jolene
Most Deserving
Veanne Cox (Photo Carol Rosegg
In a small, provincial art gallery in Ellis County, Kansas, five members of the Ellis County Arts Council are debating over who will receive the twenty-thousand dollar Living Wage Grant. Jolene Atkinson, the head of the Council, is backing Rick Duffy and his iris paintings.

Accustomed to an indifferent Council rubber-stamping her ideas, Jolene is put out when the newest member, Liz Chang, introduces outsider artist Everett Whiteside as her candidate of choice. The argument begins, pitting conservative members of the Council against its more liberal members. As opinions change and new alliances form, it becomes clear that each member is making choices based upon personal gain, rather than artistic criteria.

This may sound like serious drama, but it is not. The lines are sharp, funny, and occasionally even witty, particularly in the opening scene at the Arts Council Meeting. Each character plays a comedic role that overlays the more serious themes of art in the hinterlands and the roles that race and class play in the granting of favors. The only problem is that in the course of the play, the characters become caricatures, and the underlying themes run thin.

Veanne Cox is brilliant as Jolene Atkinson, the buttoned-up, career oriented head of the council, who relegates her husband Ted (played by Daniel Pearce) to second place, which is actually last place in her personal hierarchy. So, when she wants to garner her husband's vote for Duffy, her attempts at seduction are both awkward and hilarious.

Jennifer Lim's Liz Chang is the new girl on the block. As an assistant professor of art at a local community college, she joins the Council. Unaware of the small-town mentality and politically conservative bent of the group, she plunges ahead to promote Everett Whiteside, the untrained artist who creates art out of trash, as the best choice to receive the Living Wage Grant. In her quest to get Ted's vote, she literally throws herself at him for a one-night stand. The lead up to this engagement doesn't really work, leaving the audience to wonder how these two mismatched characters ever got together.

Kristin Griffith is Edie Kelch, the widow of the man who donated the money for the Living Wage Grant. She knows how to deliver a humorous line and her actions bring her right up to the edge of a slapstick performance. But I wonder why her hair, make-up, and actions were designed to be reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe. She might have been better played as a less attractive, older, politically conservative, Midwestern woman.

Director Shelley Butler, who also directed the play's premiere in Denver, helps to define the six characters by giving each of them an individual posture and series of gestures. Much of the humor in the play derives from the moment when each character diverges from his expected mode of behavior —as when Julie appears in seductive lingerie instead of her usual "business suit" and tries unsuccessfully to act the role of temptress.

Set designer David M. Barber has devised a simple, but elegant stage set. One piece of scenery transforms the stage — from an art gallery to Ted and Jolene's bedroom to Edie's living room to Everett's barn studio. It's all done by simply switching the panels in the back wall. The addition of a few pieces of furniture for each scene completed the four settings.

It makes sense that the female roles in this play were stronger and perhaps more interesting than those of their male counterparts. After all, developed and produced by the Women's Project Theater, which was founded in 1978 to promote the work of women playwrights and directors.

The Most Deserving by Catherine Trieschmann
Director: Shelley Butler
Cast:Veanne Cox (Jolene Atkinson), Kristin Griffith (Edie Kelch), Adam Lefevre (Dwayne Dean), Jennifer Lim (Liz Chang), Daniel Pearce (Ted Atkinson), Ray Anthony Thomas (Everett Whiteside)
Set Design: David M. Barber
Costume Design: Donald Sanders
Lighting Design: Traci Kainer Polimeni
Sound Design: Leon Rothenberg
Fight Choreographer: David Brimmer
Stage Manager: Jess Johnston
Running Time : 90 minutes with no intermission
>Women's Project Theater New York City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street
From 3/30/14; opening 4/07/14; closing 5/04/14
Reviewed by Joyce Friedland on April 7th
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