BWW Review: CHESAPEAKE at UNICORN
If you're looking for a break from all the seasonal holiday shows and concerts then Chesapeake might just be the bayside retreat you need. Playwright Lee Blessing's light-hearted satire on the arts, politics, religion and...dogs is hysterically amusing yet poetically profound.
The Unicorn Theatre's latest lively production, directed by Cynthia Levin is a spirited skirmish between neighbors on opposite ends of the political spectrum. This 1999 story involves a Southern Conservative Senator who promotes defunding the National Endowment for the Arts after what he considers an obscene performance by a provocative artist (who of course is one of the beneficiaries of such funding). Now some 18 years after it was penned it seems as current as battles played out on today's FOX and CNN news shows.
The show opens onto Ian R. Crawford's striking Chesapeake Bay set, in theatre- in-the-half-round seating, which provides an intimate and approachable space. There are only good seats in this house where the nautical setting lets one imagine the marine fog might roll in any second. The flowing imagery of the backdrop gives visual vitality and assists in projecting the sound toward the audience, leaving sound designer David Kiehl to focus on the intricate timing of all that is heard but unseen.
The story unfolds as Kerr (Katie Karel), the performance artist, narrates the curious tale of her embarrassment after a conservative congressman uses her art as fodder for his senatorial campaign. Kerr, who is now losing her arts funding, plots an act of revenge by using the last of her government given arts funds to kidnap the Senator's seemingly always barking dog. Abduction plans go awry as both dog and Kerr fall to their deaths. The lights come back up on the story as we find Kerr has now come back as a Chesapeake Bay retriever who is soon adopted by none other than THE Senator. With her newly obtained close proximity to the Senator, Kerr explores the nuances of behavior and character using them to "haunt" the Senator into viewing things from another perspective.
Katie Karel brings Kerr to life as if the role was written for her to play. Bounding across every inch of the stage with such boldness and verve she inhabits the character and wins over the audience within the first few salvos. Karel wields the monolog with tenacity like that of a retriever bent on being the first to reach the game. Pausing strategically at distant intervals, her pace quickens as she peels back each layer of the story, yet her dynamo never fades. By the show's end Karel's authenticity indeed proves that she is...well...a true performance artist.
If its time to get out of the dog-house with your Sweetie then Chesapeake is sure to get the ball rolling. Or, if you just love Theatre done well, then see this show!
This solo-acted show benefits from the additional contributions of Afton Earp (Stage Manager), Emily Swenson (Lighting Designer), Alex Davila (Assistant Lighting Designer), Greg Chafin (Technical Director), Alyson Germinder (Dramaturg), Michael Thayer (Assistant to the Director), and Hannah Taylor (Production Assistant/Sound Board Operator).
CHESAPEAKE is on Unicorn Theatre's Jerome Stage located at 3828 Main Street, Kansas City, MO 64111. The show runs December 19th, 2017 to January 7th, 2018. Previews are December 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd. Opening Night is December 23rd. A Featured Friday pre-show event is scheduled for December 29th. A talk back performance, where patrons are encouraged to stay after the show and discuss the play with the actors and director, is scheduled for December 26th.
Performances run Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 8:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8:30 p.m., and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. For those who are unable to afford a full price ticket, they may "Pay What U Can" at performances on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; because we believe art is for everyone.
Tickets are now on sale. Call 816-531-PLAY (7529) EXT. 10 go online at www.UnicornTheatre.org or buy in person during box office hours located at 3828 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111. Special discounts are available for groups of 10+, seniors (65+) and students.
Photography courtesy of Unicorn Theatre