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Review: Chesapeake (Remy Bumppo Theatre)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: Chesapeake (Remy Bumppo Theatre)   

Written by Lee Blessing 
Directed by Shawn Douglass
Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
thru April 29  |  tickets: $30-$40   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
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Make no mistake, ‘Chesapeake’ is vividly entertaining


Review: Chesapeake (Remy Bumppo Theatre)


Remy Bumppo Theatre presents



Review by Catey Sullivan 

Chesapeake is one of those shows that, when reduced to its plot points, sounds too bizarre to be remotely entertaining: The premise in this one-man show deals with a man who turns into a dog. The set is comprised of a chair. There are no costumes. In sum, Chesapeake sounds like a piece slotted for its budget-friendly production values rather than it’s merits as a drama. But make no mistake, Chesapeake is vividly entertaining. Directed by Shawn Douglass and anchored by a tour de force performance from Greg Matthew Anderson, it is funny, philosophical, and as gripping as the jaws of a Chesapeake Bay retriever clamped around a prize duck. It is also threaded through with dialog of depth and provocation that will stay with you long after the final blackout.

Playwright Lee Blessing begins Chesapeake on a marvelously humorous vein, introducing the audience to Kerr (see what he did there?), a young performance artist who takes the audience from his formative childhood inspiration to his current project. That current project – like the play itself – sounds utterly flat in the describing of it, but comes across as a deeply moving and sensual experience when Anderson relates it through Kerr’s eyes. Moving and sensual or not, Kerr’s artistic merger of nudity, audience interaction and the Bible’s Song of Solomon incurs the carefully, politically calculated wrath of one Thurm Pooley, a Southern arch-conservative in the vein of Strom Thurmond. Aided by countless folksy photo-ops with his beloved Chesapeake retriever, Pooley targets Kerr as a means of vilifying the National Endowment for the Arts. As political strategies go, it’s a winner: Pooley cleans up in his race for a southern state senate spot, leaving the artist devastated, humiliated, and on a fast track for vengeance.

It wouldn’t be fair to give away precisely what Kerr plans in his elaborate, so-crazy-it-makes-sense scheme to create a year-long performance piece that he hopes will surely humiliate Pooley just as Kerr himself has been humiliated. Suffice to say it’s dangerous, inextricably interconnected with the fate of the faithful, photo-op friendly dog and packed with possibilities for going spectacularly awry. And go spectacularly awry things go. Divulging plot points beyond this would mean revealing major spoiler, so we’ll just say Blessing’s plot goes from the ridiculous to the sublime and back and forth again multiple times in a shaggy dog story of violent drowning, reincarnation, political manipulation, attempted murder and a life-and-death game of fetch. There’s a little “Flowers for Algernon” in the alternately hilarious and bittersweet story of the senator, the subversive, and a canine with superpowers that make Lassie look like a worthless cur.

The whole thing could come crashing down with an unfunny, two-hour long thud were Anderson not so absolutely engaging and committed to the wild and wholly truths of the piece. It doesn’t matter whether he’s playing Kerr, Pooley, Pooley’s dog, Pooley’s mistress or Pooley’s conniving wife – he’s terrific, and you believe him utterly in both two- and four-legged roles. Douglass’ direction goes just far enough – no matter how over-the-top and absurd things get in the story (and they achieve incredibly high levels of both), Anderson never goes over-the-top in his performance.

Blessing, to his credit, doesn’t make Pooley a two-dimensional villain or Kerr a blameless victim. The two men, connected by fate and fur, are too complex to fall into neatly categorized types. Anderson’s delivery helps make them so, and makes this story of dogs, people and the universal humanity that lives in all a compelling tale. The fact that it’s an election year (fraught with the kind of nonsense that always accompanies election years) makes Chesapeake as timely as it is true.


Rating: ★★★★



Chesapeake continues through April 29th at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2:30pm.  Tickets are $30-$40, and are available by phone (773-404-7336) or online here (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours; one 15-minute intermission)

Review: Chesapeake (Remy Bumppo Theatre)

Photos by Johnny Knight 


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