A Play by Lee Blessing
New Rep Theatre
Arsenal Center For The Arts, Black Box Theater
November 29, 2012
Runs through December 16, 2012
Performance schedule: Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7:30; Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:-00; Saturday afternoons at 3:00; Sundays at 2:00. There will also be a Tuesday evening performance on Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $36, general admission. Students, seniors, and groups of 10 or more receive discounts. Tickets and more information available online at www.newrep.org or via the box office phone at 617-923-8487.
Chesapeake. Art. Arfff.
There are enough ideas in this two- hour one actress play to make your brain feel like it's living on a treadmill. The main conceit is so off-the-wall – and delightful – that it would be a sin to tell you about it right now. Suffice it to say, the play is about a man and his dog, politics, the nature of relationships, sex, artistic drive, dogs, religion, performance art, private versus public lives of politicians, dogs, personal fulfillment, dogs, and redemption.
Originally written by Lee Blessing in 1999, the year in which a photograph of a plastic crucifix submerged in a yellow liquid (urine) ignited a firestorm in the Christian right, it is also a stark raving manifesto for public support of the arts by the National Endowment For the Arts, which had awarded a grant to the artist who created this photograph.
To be candid, you need to have patience and stamina to stay with the opening hour. The first long act is a set up for Act Two, with Kerr the artist dishing out several story lines that sail around like Frisbees. The humor is cerebral and we keep wondering where it's going and when it's going to get there.
Kerr is a deliciously right-brained and driven artist whose destiny is to perform.She’s the kind of actress who says, " Performances that don't run the risk of jail time are a failure." She’s a possessed performance artist whose artistic sensibility is based on the scholarly readings she recites to us with the fervor of Angela Davis dressed as a kooky Harvard Square hippie in the 60s. With seductive and seditious glee, Kerr describes her earthy habit of inviting the audience to remove her clothing during her performances whilst she reads The Song of Solomon, 117 specifically lusty verses in the Old Testament.
Enter Throm Pooley (sounds a lot like Strom You-Know-Who) a South Carolina Congressman running for Senate, who condemns Kerr’s performance art as pornography, and stirs up enough conservative righteousness to be elected. Kerr’s revenge is a cockamamie scheme to kidnap Pooley's beloved dog, which was prominently used in his anti-pornography political ads.
When the playwright hollers "fetch" at the weird beginning of act two, we dive right in with the vitality of a Chesapeake retriever with a duck in sight, an allusion you’ll understand once you wrap your head around what Lee Blessing s up to.
Aside from its astute political and philosophical ruminations, the real reason to see this play is to watch Georgia Lyman at work. Big boned and tall, with a luxurious mane of thick auburn hair tumbling over her broad shoulders, she inhabits her several roles with the determination and single mindedness of Rover racing after the bone you’ve just chucked.
Lyman uses the 12' x 12' raised wooden platform in the midst of U shaped theater configuration as her playground – a stage, a lush sprawling lawn, the Chesapeake Bay, a senator’s study, the scene of a car chase, among other bits. Her easy physicality in one of her key roles has the immediacy of a big, galumphing, resilient, love-me–right-now dog. One difference that barks to differ is that dogs aren’t usually involved in deliberations about the value of art, the nature of politics, and the nature of love and loyalty.
You wouldn't believe me if I told you the trajectory of Lee blessings second act, you'll just have to see it to believe it. The result is a satisfying night at the theater, a night when your imagination and your intellect have been exercised and your belief in the goodness of human – and canine – nature has been vindicated.
Photo by Christopher McKenzie Photography