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In 'Chesapeake,' a Good Idea Goes to the Dogs

September 08, 2000|-F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

Being wacky is a hard act to pull off. Lee Blessing's "Chesapeake" at the Electric Lodge strives mightily to be a madcap political satire, and the strain shows. Rather than a fractured fairy tale, complete with lacerating edges, Blessing's self-consciously quirky piece is merely disjointed--a heavy-handed and predictable effort from a playwright who should know better.

Blessing's solo show revolves around the fortunes of Kerr (Chambers Stevens), a disgruntled performance artist who miraculously transforms into a dog--a Chesapeake Bay retriever.

But wait. That doesn't happen until the second act. Before that, we chart Kerr's fortunes as he moves from his native South to New York City, becomes a performance artist, then falls afoul of Therm Pooley, an arch-conservative congressman. From the House floor, Pooley decries Kerr as a godless deviant, winning a Senate seat in the resulting flurry of publicity.

In retaliation, Kerr plans his most ambitious performance piece to date--dog-napping the senator's prize pooch and videotaping the crime. But the canine abduction goes awry, with bizarre consequences.

In Act 1, Blessing lays the groundwork for a provocative examination of the artist's dilemma in a capitalist society and, conversely, of the government's responsibility toward the artist, especially the ever-sticky controversy of federal funding for the arts. It's when Blessing segues into the paranormal--that trite device of turning his protagonist into a dog--that things turn irretrievably cutesy.

As directed by Che'Rae Adams, Stevens plays the piece with all the depth and rhythm of a drawn-out stand-up routine--a problem, since the laughs are sporadic at best. Trefoni Rizzi's set features lots of cascading white fabric that pools around the performer's feet and threatens to trip him. David Flad's lighting and the sound by Charles Jische and John DiFusco are welcome professional touches in an otherwise checkered evening.

* "Chesapeake," Venice Theatre Works at the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Sept. 23. $15. (310) 281-6299. Running time: 2 hours.

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