By Bob Evans
From just the title, one could imagine a story about Chesapeake Bay or the infamous dog breed, Chesapeake Bay Retriever and you would be correct on both counts, but the story is far beyond a simple dog story in the Northeast; it’s the story of revenge, life, death, and the NEA.
Like all Unicorn productions, “Chesapeake” make the audience go “hmmmm?” With a strange blend of real and unbelievable as the story unfolds, audiences leave with lots to sort out in the aftermath of a mind-blowing play where real and unrealistic situations blend. “Chesapeake” by Lee Blessing bends the rules of life-after-death and blends in a little reincarnation along the way, but it’s all fun and games, nothing too serious.
For this 90-minute adventure, Katie Karel, as Kerr, constantly moves and speaks as both a performance artist, a spirit, and a canine with special powers. Karel’s non-stop speaking/acting performance allows her to create deep characters with different tones and characters to fit the non-stop performance and generate audience involvement. Karel plays a performing artist, a right-wing Southern Republican senator, a trusted canine companion, the senator’s wife, a litter-mate of the trusted canine, and a spirit in limbo who questions who and where she currently abides. Sound confusing? Well, it’s not as the play develops.
The strength lies in Karel’s characters and personifications of the characters. The weakness lies in the script. The script just develops too slowly to capture the audience quickly. The show opens with an explosive and mind-grabbing entrance and background, but the dialogue just does not maintain the speed. The play does continue to move forward with an antagonist and protagonist, but just a bit slowly for this reviewer.
Trust me on this. Dog lovers will enjoy this story because they over-enhance their dog’s ability to think and reason. And, in “Chesapeake” the dog does think, reason, and type…yes, type. The dog becomes a living, breathing, character capable of computer skills. Where else but The Unicorn and Theatre for Young America would Kansas City audiences find personifications in animals? Well, maybe at The Coterie, as well.
But, “Chesapeake” brings into question the struggle for the National Endowment for the Arts and its constant battle with right-wing Republican groups that constantly fight and try to reduce funding for the Arts. That’s primarily the message in “Chesapeake.” The Arts produces viable expansions for individual artists and audiences. Yes, some of the pieces are very abstract, but others ignite fire in audiences to delve deeper. “Chesapeake” shines a light into the darkness in hopes of enlightenment.
Playing at The Unicorn for a short run on the Jerome stage, “Chesapeake” continues through Jan. 7. The show run 90 minutes, and contrary to most Unicorn selections contains no adult language (other than just a few slang terms). But, being a one act, probably not appropriate for younger audience. With the audience seated on three sides, the blocking makes the audience feel included within the set. Karel must continually move to keep all three audience areas involved in the play. The sound and lighting help in this short piece, and the set allows for Karel to move around to engage the audience as she navigates between characters.
Tags: The Unicorn Theatre, “Chesapeake”, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment