On a Monday night in mid-November, while many people were watching NFL football or running errands, the VFW 4149 Post was roaring with laughter. In the hall next to the bar, the Maverick Players performed “Double Wide, Texas” and for a week night, the house was packed. The theater company took a gamble not long ago to do a Monday night show, and that gamble has paid off. Much like its 20-year tenure, they’ve been gambling the whole way through.
The company’s founders are Mary Lou Cassidy, John Phillips and Mark Wornell; Cassidy has remained with the company its entire time. She and key members of the Mavericks are readying for a 20th anniversary celebration, which is planned for Saturday at the VFW Post, which has become the Maverick Players’ home.
Cassidy said this is a time of transition for the Players.
“I’ve had a lot of fun doing it, and I’ll still be here, but we just have to revive it a bit. I feel like the last man standing,” she said. “But we have this youth movement in the Mavericks of people in their 40s and 50s — and they have the energy that some of us others don’t. I trust them more when someone needs to get on a ladder.”
Cassidy is a character in her own right. Her deep, strong voice initially comes off quite serious, but then churns out funny lines with rapid fire precision. Her poker face can be intimidating and sweet. This perhaps helped in her law profession (she’s retired) and as a leader.
In the beginning
For years, Midland Community Theatre hosted the McLaren Memorial Comedy Playwriting Competition and Festival, which Cassidy described as her baby. As time went on, the vision steered away from how Cassidy saw it. That became a sign for her.
IF YOU GO: Mavericks Birthday Event, 4 p.m. Saturday, VFW Post 4149, 409 Veterans Airpark Lane.
“It was going well, but I think I was trying to protect my baby,” she said. “I talked with John Phillips and we would meet with Mark Wornell at the cafeteria and we created this theater. So, the Mavericks were born in Luby’s and Furr’s.”
The plan for the company was to perform comedies and primarily the runners-up in the McLaren Festival. Cassidy, Phillips and Wornell built a troupe of actors and tech people, who included Jesse Grimes, Harry Harrison, Marilyn Harrison and Bill Larkin.
“That was the core group who I’d call the founders,” Cassidy said.
Harry Harrison chimed in that he was recruited primarily because he was the only one who had a truck to haul the sets around.
Finding its home
Through the years, Cassidy led the group through many homes. The Mavericks’ first plays were staged at the American Legion until there was a conflict with bingo nights. The group moved to produce plays at the small theater at Midland Community Theatre, but, according to Cassidy, there was confusion to audiences on whose play they were seeing. They considered the Yucca, which was too big, and performed one show at Midland Center, which was not a good fit. The Mavericks then looked at one place they thought might work.
“The movie theaters in the mall had been vacant for three, four years, so I started talking with Midland Park Mall,” she said. “Since it didn’t lend itself to retail, they gave us a sweetheart deal.”
Three years after the Mavericks were founded in 1999, Cassidy had found them a home.
They converted the movie theater into a viable theater space with a new stage, wings and lights and sound systems.
“It was a major project and we were really proud of it. If anyplace was our dream, it was the mall,” Cassidy said.
A few years later, Cassidy and the company were told by mall management they had to move out by the end of the month for Alamo Drafthouse to move in.
It was already the middle of the month; the crew scrambled to clear out the stage and chairs.
When they were halfway done, things changed.
“I told Mary Lou that the mall manager wanted to talk to her, and she was afraid of more bad news, but I told her she’s going to like this conversation,” said Grimes, light and sound technician.
The Alamo deal fell through, and the Mavericks remained at the mall for a couple more years until Kirkland’s, a home décor shop, secured the spot.
“We had to move and had no place to move to,” Cassidy said. “But MCT stepped in and offered us space until we found another. They’ve always been very helpful. And then we found the VFW.”
The relationship between the “V” and the Mavericks became a symbiotic one. The post on Veterans Airpark Lane was struggling and had an empty hall. The Mavericks needed a home and had money to pay. The VFW has been the Mavericks home since 2013.
“We’re limited to two shows a year — one in spring and one in fall — but it’s our home,” Cassidy said.
Legacy of laughs
The Maverick Players have become a lot of things, including another option for theater in Midland. The company mentors producers and directors, and most significantly, it’s given a voice to strong women both onstage and offstage.
Through the silly jokes of their comedies, the majority — if not all — of Mavericks’ plays are centered on women who triumph through hardship. That can go unnoticed with all the slapstick, but this is the heart of their shows. In turn, the company is led by Cassidy who often serves as director, but new talents have emerged within their ranks with the likes of Erica Reagan coming in as a director and Misty Thomason a producer. The Maverick Players are feminists with a funny bone.
“I think that’s very valid,” Cassidy said. “The ingenues will be fine, but the seasoned actors, there’s not always a lot of roles for them. Part of it is there are more female actors than male, so it’s supply and demand, but we do a lot of shows with strong women’s roles and older women’s roles.”
Cassidy quickly rolled out the breakdown of Maverick Players. The core group consists of about 20 people with four in their 90s, six in their 80s, five in their 70s and the “whippersnappers” who are in their 60s and younger.
To date, the Maverick Players have produced more than 70 plays.
In perfect Mavericks fashion, the reception planned for Saturday won’t be a fancy gala. It will be a gathering where people will share their stories and memories of the company and its shows. The event will also add members to its Hall of Fame, which already includes the late Sue Bob Smith and Eric Anthony Uresti, who worked with the Maverick Players.
“I’m very proud. We are a ragtag group in many ways and cobbled this all together,” Cassidy said.
Her tone shifted a little without any zingers on the horizon.
“To the audiences, a very sincere ‘Thank you’ for believing in us and trusting us to do a show that’s going to lift your spirits. I think that’s why people come to a show they’ve never heard of before. They trust us.”
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