Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey

The Most Deserving: Slight Comedy About Small Town Kansas Arts Council Grant Deliberations
Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre


Janet Sales and Scott McGowan
The Arts Council in a small Kansas town is discussing their selection of a recipient of a substantial ($20,000) "living wage" grant. The recipient is to be a local resident of originality, artistic excellence, is needy and will benefit from the grant, and preferably is an "underrepresented American voice". The head of the Arts Council is Jolene Atkinson (Janet Sales), an assured matron who has assembled a rubber stamp board, and has already decided that the recipient will be unseen white high school teacher Rick Duffy, whose chief qualification (which she at first conceals) is that his father is president of the City Council which allocates the board's ongoing funding. However, Liz Chang (Julie Chen), a young woman with an MA in Art History, new to the board, has a candidate of her own. Her candidate, Everett Whiteside (André DeSandies), is a partially lobotomized, but still loony, black man who lives in a barn where he makes and destroys religious sculptures from "found objects" (reclaimed junk). His interview with the Council goes off the tracks when he tells them that "Uncle Sam" (to whom he owes property tax and is "up inside his ass") is controlled by the Masons: "Do you know who's on top of them? The greedy motherfuckers running the whole shebang ... The Jews." However, Liz proves as manipulative and determined as is Jolene.

The members of the board are thin, comic cardboard and, in some cases, unlikely characters, who are easy targets for author Catherine Trieschmann. Although Trieschmann is a Kansas resident, produced within the New York metropolitan area arts community, The Most Deserving plays as a smug putdown of bigoted/conservative middle Americans. Potentially, serious issues are swatted away with one liners. It is hardly acknowledged that the, played for laughs, loony bigotry of Whiteside is a serious issue for the board to consider. However, Trieschmann has a lively and off-kilter sense of humor which she employs to provide much laughter, which is fully amplified by director Laura Ekstrand and her fine company.

The remaining board members are Ted Atkinson (Scott McGowan), Jolene's British husband who publishes the local newspaper and is no longer aroused by Jolene but is hot to trot with Liz; Dwayne Dean (Jason Szamreta), an auto worker out of work after 30 odd years in the industry, who has painted a series of amateur paintings of American vice presidents and decides that he wants the arts grant; and the fussy, taste challenged Edie Kelch (Noreen Farley), recently widowed by her husband, an Arts Council and NRA donor.

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The enthusiastic ensemble is nicely anchored by both Janet Sales (Jolene) and Julie Chen (Liz). Sales does get a chance to go over the top deliciously in a scene in which Jolene tries to restore Ted's lust for her. Scott McGowan overplays the unbridled Ted and his English accent to solid comic effect. The delightful Noreen Farley does the same as the fussy, addled Edie, whose recently deceased husband was a major contributor to the Arts council "and the NRA." (If you think that the latter stand alone observation is funny, this is likely a play for you.) Jason Szamreta is most funny when he tries to explain why he is one-sixteenth homosexual in order to strengthen his claim on the grant. André DeSandies manages the heavy task of making some of Trieschmann's least felicitous comic notions induce smiles.

Playwright Catherine Trieschmann has challenged neither herself, her actors, nor her audience in her over the top, bluntly satiric comedy. However, thanks to her comic touch, and the enthusiasm and talent of this repertory actors company, the unassuming The Most Deserving is providing Dreamcatcher audiences with an evening that is pleasantly amusing.

The Most Deserving continues performances (Evenings: Thursday - Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Sunday 2 pm) through March 1, 2015, at the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre at the Oakes Center, 120 Morris Avenue, Summit, New Jersey 07901; Box Office: 908-514-9654; 800-838-3006 (Brown Paper Tickets)/ on-line: www.dreamcatcherrep.org.

The Most Deserving by Catherine Trieschmann; directed by Laura Ekstrand

Cast
Jolene Atkinson……………………Janet Sales
Ted Atkinson………………….Scott McGowan
Liz Chang……………………………..Julie Chen
Edie Kelch………………………..Noreen Farley
Dwayne Dean………………….Jason Szamreta
Everett Whiteside……………André DeSandies


Photo: Courtesy Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre


- Bob Rendell


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