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Two River Times: Two River Theater Presents World Premiere of New Tony Meneses Play

Although Tony Meneses has had his plays produced all over the country, he considers the Two River Theater his artistic home.

“My first professional production, ‘Guadalupe in the Guest Room,’ was here in 2015,” he said. “They were the first one to take a risk on me.”

Since then, Meneses’ productions at the Two River Theater, including 2017’s “The Women of Padilla” and 2022’s “The Hombres,” have been so well received that he isn’t considered a risk anymore. His newest play, a comedy entitled “A Thousand Maids,” will have its world premiere from April 6-28. The show is directed by Aneesha Kudtarkar (“Water by the Spoonful,” “Queen”). Kudtarkar was a Drama League Director’s Project Fellow in 2015 and the recipient of the 2019 Kauffman Memorial Prize at Yale.

The story of “A Thousand Maids” focuses on Cordelia, who was hired to design a maid’s costume for a show about maids.

“It’s a play within a play,” said Meneses.

Meneses, who was born in Mexico and raised in the United States, tends to write stories that offer commentaries on class. He wrote “A Thousand Maids” with the actress Lupe Ontiveros in mind. During her career, she often joked that she played a maid in movies and television 150 times. In reality, she wasn’t that far off.

“She was so wonderful and naturally charming,” said Meneses. “In my head, I was finally writing a starring role for her. She passed away while I was writing it. I realized Lupe was one of so many women of color who start off their careers as an actor but are only shown as domestic help.”

In the play, Cordelia can’t stop thinking about the films “The Help,” “Maid in Manhattan,” “Gone with the Wind” and “As Good as It Gets.” She would like to find a way to show these women not just as maids, but for who they really are.

The cast includes Deonna Bouye (“Guadalupe in the Guestroom,” “The Revolving Cycles Truly and Steadily Roll’d”) as Butterfly, Natalie Woolams-Torres (“The Fears,” “Tiny Beautiful Things”) as Cordelia, Kate Rigg (“Collective Rage,” “A Thousand Splendid Suns”) as Vivian and Maria Elena Ramirez (“72 Miles to Go…,” “Little Women”) as Lupe Ontiveros.

“The power of theater for me is being able to access experiences that are not mine,” said Meneses. “I want to show the interior rich lives of these women. There’s something about falling in love with a character for a night that is so powerful; to witness another person’s humanity for a night.”

Meneses finds it is more effective to spread his message through the power of comedy.

“These conversations can feel heavy when you’re talking about representation or not being seen,” he said.

Two River Theater artistic director Justin Waldman said he is thrilled to welcome Meneses back to Red Bank.

“Building a deep and sustained relationship with an artist is a tremendous gift – both to the artist who is afforded the opportunity to grow their craft and the community who is along for that ride,” he said. “It is a privilege to continue the journey with Tony and his hilarious and poignant world premiere.”

The creative team for “A Thousand Maids” includes scenic designer Alexander Dodge, costume designer Kara Harmon, lighting designer Cat Tate Starmer, sound/composition designer Fabian Obispo, hair and makeup designer Gabbie Vincent, dramaturg Sonia Desai, dialect coach Nathan Crocker, stage manager Genevieve Ortiz and assistant stage manager Brillian Qi-Bell.

On Wednesday, April 10, Waldman will host an intimate conversation with Tony Meneses. Coffee and cookies will be available starting at 5:30 p.m., with the discussion set to start at 5:45 p.m. Attendance for this pre-show event is free. Tickets for the 7 p.m. performance of “A Thousand Maids” are sold separately.

Tickets are $45-75 with discounts for seniors, military and those under 35. For more information, visit tworivertheater.org.