By Daniel Skora
Normally, it would be considered not only an extremely rare occurrence but a catastrophic one as well for someone to wake up and find that they their mind and consciousness had somehow taken up residency in the body of a dog. But for performance artist Kerr (Sebastian Gerstner), it’s just another opportunity to put on a show.
Theatre Nova is presenting “Chesapeake”, playwright Lee Blessing’s little dalliance into that not often visited landscape where the parallel roads of politics and art converge. The comedy has in its crosshairs the real-life machinations of Senators Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, who railed against the arts in the 1980’s as being a hotbed of pornography. Therm Pooley is the play’s composite for the two real-life Senators, and though we see him only in Kerr’s (Gerstner’s) amusing impressions, we know his type very well: he loves his dog and hates the arts.
Pooley is running for Senator and gets elected by using Kerr as an example, calling attention to Kerr’s penchant for displaying himself nude in his performances (no, not shown, only talked about). He then rallies his fellow Senators to eliminate taxpayer funding to the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts), calling attention to the sleaze and faith bashing that seems to have become commonplace in the artistic community.
Kerr (the name, of course, is a sound-alike for the word “cur”, a rather dated term for a mongrel dog, and a bit of a teaser that there might be a connection between the two “Kerr’s/curs”) is more than a little perturbed that his performances have been used to elect such a vindictive Senator. So he sets out to seek revenge, devising a plan to kidnap Lucky, the senator’s beloved Chesapeake Bay retriever. But Kerr is anything but Lucky and it’s he, in a manner of speaking, who’s about to find himself “kidnapped”. Kerr nabs the dog, there’s an automobile chase, and a violent car crash occurs. What follows when Kerr regains consciousness is perhaps best illustrated by a title that Welsh poet Dylan Thomas once gave to a collection of his prose stories. The second half of “Chesapeake” is a highly creative, wonderfully realized by Gerstner “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog”.
For a one-man show that clocks in at less than 90 minutes, “Chesapeake” is a very busy play. Sometimes you’re torn between keeping up with the several characters and navigating through Blessing’s complex storyline (which Gerstner astutely, but unfortunately, delivers at breakneck speed) and just sitting back and enjoying Gerstner’s performance. “Chesapeake” makes a perfect bookend to “Buyer & Cellar”, his other brilliant one-man show at Theatre Nova of a year ago. In the end, it’s Gerstner’s performance that saves the day for this too-good-to-pass-up play.
“Chesapeake”, directed by Daniel C. Walker, runs through February 28th. Tickets are pay-what-you-can, with a suggested donation of $20 and are available by calling 734.635-8450. Theatre Nova is located at 416 W. Huron Street, tucked away in the Yellow Barn a stone’s throw off the road in downtown Ann Arbor.