“I am your spaniel,” Helen averred in Midsummer Night’s Dream, “and, Demetrius,//The more you beat me, I will fawn on you// Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,//Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,//Unworthy as I am, to follow you.//What worser place can I beg in your love,–//And yet a place of high respect with me,–//Than to be used as you use your dog?”
So in Chesapeake, Lee Blessing, who writes exquisitely on the intersection of the personal and the political, brings in a third element. Let’s not call it doggerel; let’s invent a new word: canineical.
A performance artist named (ahem!) Kerr (Dexter Hamlett) wins an NEA grant for a show in which he has audience members remove articles of his clothing until he is naked, all while he recites the Song of Solomon from Scripture (he does not actually perform this act during Chesapeake). This enrages Kerr’s hometown Congressman, Therm Pooley, so much that he decides to run for the Senate. He does so on an anti-Kerr, anti-NEA platform, and wins narrowly.
The kicker is that Pooley glories in Kerr’s usefulness to him. Far from stripping Kerr’s grant, he wants Kerr to get more grants so that Pooley will have something to run against in the future. Kerr, who is sometimes a fool but not a tool, reacts furiously. He will strike back at Pooley, performance-art style.
It seems that Pooley has a dog – a Chesapeake retriever named Sir Ratcliffe of Luckymore (“Rat” to Pooley, “Lucky” to everyone else) – who he uses with great effect in his campaign ads. Kerr will snatch the dog, take him to a fishing shack on the Chesapeake, and win his love before returning him to Pooley – recording everything on his “Rat-cam.”
by Lee Blessing
at Bedroom – Fort Fringe
612 L Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
Details and tickets
“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog,” Harry Truman advised, and we see why here: these great creatures, loyal and docile by nature and instinct, are a perfect counterpoint to Pooley’s Washington, where his enemy is really his friend, and his wife is really his enemy.
Such a play places a great burden on the single actor who relates it to us. In this production, Hamlett – an actor I had previously seen only in small character roles – meets the challenge robustly. Blessing makes Kerr a storyteller, and Hamlett is a fine one, varying his pace, gesturing economically and intelligently, varying his voice slightly to speak the words of other characters but never falling into impersonation or, worse, caricature. In the production I saw, we were buffeted by a symphony of emergency-vehicle sirens, but Hamlett never let it bother him, or us.
Hamlett, who sounds a little like Garrison Keillor, is so reasonable and convincing in the role that he makes us accept the astonishing events of the second half of the play with ease. Even Peter Caress’ mystifying lighting design cannot distract us from Hamlett’s easy authority. Hamlett, director Aly B. Ettman, and Blessing have combined to make The Edge of the Universe Players 2’s production a vigorous, satisfying experience.
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