‘Monster Crew’ Blog: Finding Wharton

‘Monster Crew,’ Natalie and Katricia’s screenplay-in-progress centers around, well…., a Monster Crew of twenty-somethings: Jasmine, a mousy black girl with schizophrenia and the hallucinations to match; Annalisa, a dark-skinned, bipolar sorceress; and Mark, a sweet, sweet stupid man that keeps both girls grounded. The three close friends run a doughnut shop in Smalltown, Texas that sells passable pastries and coffee. In their infinite kindness, the three besties give a free side order of Santería spells to solve your problems. Unfortunately, though they’re good-intentioned, but they are also young and stupid, which means their solutions often do more harm than good. Below, Katricia talks about her trip to Wharton, Texas where she found the initial inspiration for the characters of Jasmine and Annalissa and the setting for the film.

In August 2013, I got on a dusty bus, much like Annalissa and Jasmine, and made my way from Houston, Texas, to Wharton, Texas. I’d just finished completing the works of Horton Foote and I wanted to witness his hometown in person. I only had a germ of the seed of THE MONSTER CREW in my mind, and I was hoping that Foote’s homeland would provide the sunlight and nourishment I needed. I was right.

But not before I was wrong. Even though I am a born and raised Texan, I had misconceptions about the small town. I halfway expected to get off the Greyhound and walk into the barn doors saloon and have a barkeep stop wiping his glass to help the “stranger” in town.

And yet, I was not so wrong. Wharton is a small town. The bus stop was next to a small diner. I bought breakfast and was served two greasy fried eggs, buttered toast, and bacon. Non-organic. Though I grew up eating such food, living in Houston for the last decade had turned me into a featherweight.

During my stay, a local cab driver—the only cab driver in the city—slepped me around town for $20/day. ($20 will get you a 15 minute cab ride in Houston.) My room was $40 per night. And I met the richest man in town on my first day there. I asked my driver what Whartonites were most proud of. He replied, “We have a Denny’s, and we have a Wal-mart.” His drawl, Tennessee not Wharton, masked his emotions. Was this truly all Wharton had to offer?

At the Wal-mart, I interviewed two young women who taught me about “wine-parties,” and high school football games. I learned about the community college. There is, however, a darker side of the small American town. This is where I was inspired to add supernatural elements. The economy is depressed. The citizens are out of work. My driver told me about the substance abuse epidemic in the town and showed me the jail which, from where I was standing, looked just as grand as the local community college.

Since then, I’ve broadened my idea of Wharton. I found Wharton’s Plaza Theatre and I met Roshunda Jones, a born Whartonite who now lives in Houston, who often stage directs for Houston theater institution Theatre Under the Stars and educator. It was Jones who corroborated my driver’s story. The Wal-mart was a point of pride for the town. They had a parade when it opened. — Katricia