Had it with political wrangling? Fed up with wasteful government spending? Yearning for a simpler, more primal existence? Then you’re set to enjoy The Bay Theatre Company production of Lee Blessing’s Chesapeake.
Matthew Vaky — the versatile, voluble star of this one-man tour de force —he portrays 10 characters in the mammalian circus. Chief among them are Kerr (a bisexual performance artist), Sen. Therm Pooley (R-VA) and Pooley’s dog Lucky (the most effective political pet in Congress.) Vaky creates an ironic fairy tale of three souls who are by turns sweet and spiteful, gentle and vicious, disdainful and sympathetic, repressed and unbridled, humanistic and animalistic.
Pooley is so conservative he would tax gays for their high-risk lifestyle. Kerr, one of his constituents, is so liberal he recites the biblical Song of Solomon as a tantalizing strip tease. Pooley’s performance is funded by a National Endowment for the Arts’ grant, which the outraged Pooley plans to withdraw. So the artist plans a dognapping as a retaliatory promotional stunt. The plan backfires when both he and Lucky die, and he is reincarnated as Pooley’s next pet, a ringer for the original Lucky.
Can man’s best friend, in the guise of a Christian miracle, influence the realm of politics where performance art could not? It may come as no surprise to dog lovers that it takes a canine to tear down the walls that divide us. This shaggy-dog tale of fidelity and transformation is so charming it almost made me renounce cats.
I’m torn in choosing the best aspect of this show. I could say it’s Vaky’s energy, but that would rob author Blessing of the credit he deserves for such zingers as, “Art isn’t an act of communication. That’s just what people say when they want money. It’s about domination.” For dominated I was, so much so that I might go back again. I can’t get enough of Lucky’s keen observations like, madness “smells like vanilla, and Congress was full of it,” or “Hell could smell like a farm and have southern accents.”
After the play was over, I retained a vivid memory of pastoral and patrician spaces merely implied by sublime acting and a monochromatic set comprised of two moveable boxes and a chair on an abbreviated-thrust stage. A bonus of Bay Theatre Company’s renovated performance area is a more spacious seating arrangement, so spacious I felt like I’d been upgraded to Business Class. Shifts in time and mood are achieved via lighting and an abstract soundtrack of original music by Gregg Martin that, although helpfully disorienting at times, was a bit too loud and distracting during the senator’s climactic final speech.
One word of warning: this profane and sexually suggestive show is not for kids, but I would not hesitate to take high schoolers. It has much to teach audiences of all ages and political persuasions.