In Their Words: Meet the cast of THE MOST DESERVING.
How do the themes in The Most Deserving resonate for you?
Veanne Cox: Well, for me personally, my whole life is driven by keeping the theater alive. And my character Jolene really wants to make art survive. Life as we know it must have art to survive. It must be a part of our society, or we will perish.
Adam LeFevre: I love this play because it manages to do at least two things. It lampoons the way we relate, as a culture, to art, and that somehow art elevates us in a social way. At the same time it shows the real, emotional component to those who are driven to make art. Writers write, artists paint, singers sing, and those that have to do it for whatever reasons that are maybe inexplicable but have nothing to do with recompense of any kind, financial or public glorification… That’s an artist, you know.
Daniel Pearce: It’s about second chances. There’s something about the age I am now, where I am in my life, and this character and these people in this play resonate. Ted has a line, where she (Jolene Atkinson) says, “Oh you know, you always wanted to be a rock journalist,” and he’s like, “Yeah… You know, imagine sitting down with Jerry Garcia, just a real heart-to-heart. I could still do that. It’s not too late”, and that’s what the play is about for me. “I could still do that; it’s not too late.”
Ray Anthony Thomas: The inanity of what the characters strive for, what’s important to them, versus the reality of the situation. It’s sort of an absurdist, maybe farcical take on it. I think Catherine has tried to write something that’s a little on the farcical side, not necessarily slapstick, a comedy of manners, I would say.
What do you think audiences will enjoy most about this play?
Kristin Griffith: It’s very warm and hysterically funny. It’s a truthful, joyous look at the kind of messed up way that we try to judge art, which you can’t do. You can’t put objective criteria on a very subjective thing. It’s hard to measure immeasurable stuff, but I think that’s a very human instinct, that we want to know why.
Adam LeFevre: They’re going to laugh, laugh, laugh, but it is one of those fine comedies that finds its laughter in very fundamental truths about people. To quote that famous esthetician, Homer Simpson, “It’s funny, because it’s true.” She’s [playwright Catherine Trieschmann] got this group of people together, each of whom wants something very badly and will stop at nothing to get it, and that’s great fun to watch people go about their schemes to achieving their ends, particularly in the kind of microcosm of this small town. There’s great opportunity to make commentary about people and about art, how art functions and, sometimes, saves people. And, in other cases, it makes people mean and venal.
Jennifer Lim: Catherine’s written these incredible characters that are funny but also incredibly complex. They are all people who have very strong beliefs and are prepared to do anything to make sure the right thing is done, and I think that is something that’s very relatable.
How does your character fit into the comedy of The Most Deserving?
Veanne Cox: Jolene is a can-do person, but the obstacles that each person surrounding her gives her is something that anybody who’s ever run anything will be able to identify with, she desperately wants to succeed in something where you cannot measure success.
Kristin Griffith: You have a woman of a certain age on a journey of self-discovery on being able to do anything she wants without her husband. Although she loved her husband very much, but I don’t think she knew how tightly held she was until he died, until these things started loosening up for her!
Adam Lefevre: I love this guy! Dwayne is guileless, and particularly in the realm of art and talking about art that he has truly become impassioned. Irony escapes him; he is very literal in terms of the way he thinks, but he’s not stupid. There’s something very innocent about him, which is wonderful.
Jennifer Lim: Liz is a fighter, and she’s not scared to be a little scrappy about it. She’s relatable. She’s a fish out of water, but she doesn’t let that stop her. She loves what she does, and she’s passionate about it, and she’s prepared to fight for what she believes in.
Daniel Pearce: Ted’s British, so that’s just funny! I love anything eccentric, and Brits tend to be more eccentric than Americans. Brits have all these nooks and crannies, like an English muffin, that I love so much. He’s a little slow on his feet and burnt out. He’s constantly getting befuddled, and that’s funny.
Anthony Ray Thomas: Everett’s eccentricity, his quirkiness, the way he deals with people…he’s an outsider artist, who doesn’t see things normally. He’s got a big heart. Things inspire him, and he doesn’t know why.
This is your second play with Women’s Project Theater. What do you enjoy about working with us?
Kristin Griffith: I love the women! I love the freedom, and I think Women’s Project Theater takes a lot of chances in the plays they produce, they are willing to push a bit into the audience, to challenge the audience.
Adam LeFevre: The work that gets done here is fantastic, and as an actor looking for good roles, it’s a great place to come. The people who work here are so committed to doing good work and are so personable. That part of it is great fun, the senses of humor and empathy that any artist would die to have as part of…coming into that kind of an embrace.
Meet the creative duo: Q&A with THE MOST DESERVING playwright Catherine Trieschmann & director Shelley Butler
Where did the idea for The Most Deserving spring from?
Catherine: All my plays come from two places: a desire to explore a certain emotional terrain and a desire to try a new form. I wanted to write an out-and-out comedy, in the style of a wonderful artist like Alan Arkin. I’ve lived in Kansas for seven years, and I’ve always been tickled by people getting excited or angry about minor issues like library renovation. I thought it would be fun to take the sort of comedy and dynamics of small town politics and marry that to aesthetic questions that are faced by an arts council, who are tasked with the job of giving a living wage grant of the remarkable, vast sum of $20,000 to a local artist.
As the director, what’s your vision for the play?
Shelley: I wanted to create a really voyeuristic experience that takes you right inside the council, inside the private lives and bedrooms of the members. It’s a comedy that comes out of truth, and we’ve created a set and clothes and sound that is grounded and authentic, and the humor just bubbles forth from that situation.
What are the questions or themes The Most Deserving asks the audience to consider?
Catherine: The central question of the play is, “Who is qualified to determine what artists are most deserving of funding?” It’s a very tricky question. It’s not only a question of taste, like, “What makes great art?” This play focuses on who gets to determine what artists are funded. What makes an artist more deserving than another one when it comes to these decisions?
Shelley: In addition to all the shenanigans that the characters get up to, pursuing what they want or vying for their candidate, there are also real human exchanges in this. It’s about intimacy; connection, passion, the arts, all of those things we connect to. Vying for what you believe in and vying for the arts is very important. There’s something about having a passion for what you believe in that audiences will connect with in a real way.
What do you think excites audiences the most about this show?
Catherine: Well, first of all it’s fun, and it’s surprising. I think what I always long for the most when I go the theater is to be surprised. And with this play, there’s a surprise in every single scene. The humor is rooted in true human psychology. The characters are striving after things that we all can relate to, so humor grounded in truth.
Shelley: My favorite kind of comedy comes from defying expectations, and this play does that again and again. It’s chock full of surprises. Audiences are going to love watching how far these characters will go to get what they want. It all comes down to a vote and, like any great democracy, there are conflicting opinions, conflicting desires, and none of these characters are afraid to vy for what they want.
We’ve seen it with congress; people are willing to charm and coerce and sling mud and seduce to get what they want, and our characters are willing to do the same things. This world, which irises in on a small town, but is not unlike congress or Richard III, or House of Cards, where the characters are willing to really go after what they want with everything that they have. The play is full of quirky, unique, surprising characters.
The Most Deserving sheds light on the politics of arts funding and the role of minorities and race. Do you think it’s easier to discuss these issues through humor?
Catherine: Humor is the great neutralizer, right? So it’s the ultimate coping mechanism; it’s what we have when faced with the dark and terrible things that happen to us. So certainly, it’s much easier to talk about race through humor, to talk about the politics of arts funding through humor… It opens up a space for audiences to see the more difficult, intricate issues.
What do you enjoy most about working with Women’s Project Theater?
Catherine: This is my third play with WP and my favorite thing about working at Women’s Project Theater is that the staff, across the board, is completely dedicated to creating the best theater possible. They’re attracted to risky projects; that are provocative, that aren’t safe.
Shelley: As a WP Lab alum, I know WP is committed to nurturing dynamic artists and supporting artists to deliver really important and delightful work. WP is making work that I want to go see, so to be able to be a part of that and make work for the WP is thrilling.