BWW Reviews: In Tandem Retrieves Conversation on Art and Politics in CHESAPEAKE
Blessing, Chesapeake. Daniels.These three words roll off the tongue with the comfort and perfection of naming B, C and D when reciting the alphabet. Last weekend at In Tandem Theatre on their Tenth Street Theatre stage, Matt Daniels presented his incredible one-man performance of Chesapeake, a 1999 fantasy play written by the award winning playwright Lee Blessing.
For two plus hours, Daniels weaves the story of how his character named Kerr was thwarted in his bid for a National Endowment of the Arts grant by Therm Pooley, a conservative Southern politician seeking reelection. To aid his congressional campaign, Pooley enlists the cause of Kerr, a performance artist who stages the Bible's Song of Solomon while people in the audience begin to remove his clothes.
Pooley labels Kerr's performance act or art pornography to win his seat in Washington, D.C., while also using his faithful Chesapeake Bay retriever named Lord Ratcliffe of Luckymore, (also given the nickname Rat or Lucky) to attract sympathy in his political commercials. Both the congressman and Rat haunt Kerr, because after Pooley is indeed elected, Kerr learns he was merely a pawn in Pooley's political strategy.
After the election, Kerr's approved NEA grant refuses to soothe his disdain for Pooley and his faithful dog, Lucky. Kerr decides to spend his grant money on an elaborate scheme to humiliate, revenge Pooley and video a grand protest in the name of art that involves the valuable Chesapeake Lucky. What happens to Kerr's plan transforms into Blessing's' humorous fantasy, and perhaps that Kerr might actually resemble a cur, or that mongrel dog with an unpleasant disposition.
If this storyline seems unbelievable, Daniels under Chris Flieller's astute direction creates a performance and platform which gives Kerr a likeable persona, as either Kerr or a cur, while remaining somewhat surly. A stand out performance that allows the audience to believe there's more underneath the skin or fur of a living being than first appears, and above all, to admit dogs might just be man's best friend.
Dogs love their owners unconditionally,endearing and loyal, never reveal secrets, listen to any complaints without complaint, and in the case of the Chesapeake Bay retriever, will retrieve anything above all cost to their own life based on instinct. Extremely valuable to a politician or a frustrated performance arttist with natural instinct for their own survival.
Blessing comments throughout his theatre fantasy with a dry wit that refuses to any preach or teach and subtly asks: what will people do and how will they retrieve the lost arts for today's culture? Who decides what constitutes art, and how does art in every medium influence or matter in contemporary society? Perhaps the same could be said of politics? Who decides what political game the public plays? Is art or politics an "act of will", a form of domination, or does God even want spending on art or political campaigns?
Whether the audience cares or whatever thy think regarding the NEA or the current state of art and politics in this country really matters less than letting themselves invest in Blessing's imaginative fantasy. However, an audience will most likely care about dogs, their pets, and how important they can be to making life tolerable in these tough situations. A fact that becomes so indelibly interesting during this memorable performance by Milwaukee's Daniels, who transforms into an equally knowledgeable cur in Blessing's imaginative script.
If Blessing's play borders on longwindedness several times during the performance, a remarkable Daniels continually retrieves the audience's attention back to the surreal adventure unfolding on In Tandem's stage. For art, for politics, for the wonder of an evening at the theater, for man's best friend, please remember these three words this March: Blessing. Chesapeake. Daniels.
In Tandem Theatre presents Lee Blessing's Chesapeake with Matt Daniels at the Tenth Street Theatre through March 16. For information, performance times, and tickets, call 414.271.1371 or visit www.intandemtheatre.com.