The outrageously cheeky comedy The Most Deserving by playwright Catherine Trieschmann made its world debut October 11 at the Denver Center for Performing Arts. It was first read at the Colorado New Play Summit last year.
This hilarious adult play pokes fun at members of the arts council of a small town in Ellis County, Kansas. The five members are trying to determine which artist should receive a $20,000 award based on financial need, artistic ability and showing an “underrepresented American voice.” In doing so, all hell breaks loose.
The funny bone of this comedy lies in the richness of its characters, all captured superbly by the entire cast. There’s Jolene Atkinson, the uptight, power-hungry, status-seeking council leader played succinctly by Judith Hawking. Her flighty British husband, Ted, is Denver Center’s veteran Sam Gregory as you’ve never seen him before. He spends half his time on stage parading around in his tighty-whiteys and bikini underwear. Their bedroom scene in the first act is pure burlesque fun.
DC’s Jeanne Paulsen is perfect as Edie Kelch, the outspoken widow with a drinking problem and the financial backing for the council. Making her debut with DC is perky Rebecca Hirota as the newest and youngest council member with a masters degree in art history and a passion for helping a disabled, poor black self-taught artist who creates art from found things, or as he puts it: “making shit outta shit.” Turns out, her passion may be more self-serving than she realizes.
The artist, Everett Whiteside, is played by Jonathan Earl Peck, also making his CC debut. He’s a likable fellow, until his face gets all snarled and he starts talking about the IRS agent living in his ass. Really.
The fifth council member, amateur artist and newly out gay man is Dwayne Dean, played convincingly by Craig Bockhorn, another first-timer to Denver Center. He so wants to be acknowledged as an artist (he paints portraits of vice-presidents) that he cuts off his ear like Van Gogh.
Though the play is not based on real events, Trieschmann—who is from a small town in western Kansas—got the inspiration from observing the workings of her own town’s city council, board of education and other small governing bodies. “Out of those places come some pretty good stories that I thought are ripe for humor,” she said in a Denver Center interview. “Placing comedy of small-town politics on top of aesthetic questions seemed like the right material for me to explore.”
The sets designed by David M. Barber move seamlessly from scene to scene. Shelley Butler directs this show that is destined for distinction.
The ending will surprise you.
The Most Deserving plays the 232-seat Ricketson Theatre at the Denver Center for Performing Arts through November 17. Performances dates are Tuesday-Thursday, 6:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 1:30 p.m. To buy tickets, call 303-893-4100 or visit the website www.denvercenter.org.