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The Most Deserving

Under the guise of eavesdropping on the public personae and private lives of the Ellis County (Kansas) Arts Council, Catherine Trieschmann's The Most Deserving provides a unique point-of-view for examining the nature of art, artistic talent, and sanity.

(Left to right) Jeanne Paulsen as Edie and Judith Hawking as Jolene
(L to R) Jeanne Paulsen as Edie
and Judith Hawking as Jolene
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
Trieschmann cleverly plays upon our snobbery and knee-jerk assumptions regarding culture in the backwaters of the high plains, as she leads us along the primrose path, laughing at the foibles of the local yokels who don't know Rembrandt van Rijn from Thomas Kinkade, until, at the end, we wonder if the differences between a Kansas meeting hall and a Paris salon aren't more a matter of style than of content.

If you think this sounds far-fetched, consider that Van Gogh died destitute, his talent completely unappreciated by "the experts." Who are these experts, anyway?

Rebecca Hirota as Liz Change and Jonathan Earl Peck as Everett Whiteside
Rebecca Hirota as Liz Chang
and Jonathan Earl Peck as Everett Whiteside
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
Jolene Atkinson (Judith Hawking), a longtime (and very controlling) advocate for local arts, convenes a meeting of the council to discuss the unexpected windfall of a $20,000 grant earmarked to go to the most deserving artist in the county. Her husband, Ted (Sam Gregory), an English expatriate and philistine, can hardly contain his boredom. Liz Chang (Rebecca Hirota), an optimistic new resident and board member, and an associate professor of art at the local college, begins lobbying for an eccentric African-American, Everett Whiteside (Jonathan Earl Peck), who makes "outsider art" from junk. Edie Kelch (Jeanne Paulsen) is a recent widow whose donations support the activities of the council, the members of which, in turn, cater to her eccentricities. Dwayne Dean (Craig Bockhorn), an unemployed schlep, considers resigning from the council to pursue the grant, but there is a question of whether he meets the requirements stipulated by the doner, particularly those of talent and minority status.

Lots of funny performance here: Hawking finds an hilarious cross between The Church Lady and a Desperate Housewife; Gregory's English version of the clueless male is jolly good; Hirota's high-energy ivory tower earnestness is a hoot; Peck grabs Everett's paranoia by the horns, to great effect; Paulsen's deadpan sarcasm cuts to the quick, particularly in contrast to her zany drinking scene; and Bockhorn surprises us after a long gestation, delivering an explosive finale to Dwayne's monotone mentality.

(Left to right) Sam Gregory as Ted Atkinson and Craig Bockhorn as Dwayne Dean
(L to R) Sam Gregory as Ted Atkinson
and Craig Bockhorn as Dwayne Dean
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, in the bedrooms, barns, and living rooms of the invested parties, we witness the desperation behind the petty politics, all of which leads to the final vote. Are the judgements made by the council any less ignorant than those made regarding Van Gogh during his lifetime? And what does financial remuneration have to do with the quality of art, anyways? Art, as Trieschmann concludes, must be its own reward.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's world premiere of Catherine Trieschmann's The Most Deserving runs through November 17th. For tickets: 303-893-4100 or www.denvercenter.org.

Bob Bows

 

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