Lee Blessing’s Chesapeake is just as absurdly silly as it is politically dramatic. In this production, directed by Third Rail Repertory’s Scott Yarbrough, the ironic political satire achieves its goal with only one actor and almost no props. At first glance it appears to be no more than a dramatic reading, as multiple-role performer Todd Van Voris recounts the first act while seated at a desk with nothing but a pitcher of water in front of him, a slide show behind him, and occasional noises (created by Rodolfo Ortega) bursting from the speakers.
At its core, the story of Chesapeake, which was written at the height of Jesse Helms’ campaign against the National Endowment for the Arts, is a tale of political espionage. At least, that is what Blessing might have you think. In brief, the play narrates a chain of events through the eyes of Kerr, a performing artist, who is enamored with Filippo Marinetti and the futurists. Kerr embarks on a revenge plot against a United States senator hell-bent on gutting public arts funding, only to die in a hilariously clumsy accident and be reborn as the senator’s new dog. As with any well-conceived story, it’s not until the second act that the play’s real theme is brought to the foreground. It is illustrated by the genuine growth of both artist and politician through the unbreakable and inescapable bond between a man and his dog.
Van Voris portrays each role nimbly as he jumps between Blessing’s characters. Viewers may be momentarily confused by the entry of a new character until realizing that Van Voris’ low, manly voice is also meant to portray those of several women in the act. Disbelief should also be suspended when trying to grapple with the idea of a dog who can write in the sand and type on a keyboard.
The first act is funny, but the second is packed end to end with comedy. Between the protagonist’s uncontrollable impulse to have sex with a neighbor’s bitch in heat, and his description of the almost orgasmic sensation of being petted on the belly, Chesapeake will have something for aesthetes and tea-partyers alike.
SEE IT: Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont St., 242-0080. 7:30 pm Wednesday-Saturday, 2 pm Sunday, Nov. 17-21. $12-$28.