Georgia Lyman does the impossible. She performs alone on the stage at New Rep in Lee Blessing’s wildly eccentric CHESAPEAKE (running through Dec. 16th), playing not one, but five indelible characters. Blessing’s clever premise places a struggling performance artist at odds with a right wing politician who wants to pull the plug on the NEA.
Sound familiar? Back in the late ‘80s Senator Jesse Helms et al objected to artists like Karen Finley and Andres Serrano being awarded grants for material the religious right considered to be obscene. Boston City Councilor Albert “Dapper” O’Neill even vowed to prevent the travelling Mapplethorpe exhibit from seeing the light of day at the I.C.A. He didn’t and it did. The NEA has been under attack ever since, especially this election year…but now the right is aiming at PBS. We live in strange times.
Blessing names his nasty, fictional politician Therm Pooley (a name reminiscent of the late Strom Thurmond perhaps) who in CHESAPEAKE is famous for his proposal to “tax gays for their high risk lifestyle.” When he targets Lyman’s performance artist, she sets her sights on him, even contemplating kidnapping his dog.
She describes another performance artist whose work inspired her to take up the banner: a performer who whacked a frying pan one thousand times at seven second intervals. I immediately flashed back to Robert Wilson’s THE CIVIL WARS at the A.R.T. when a child bounces a ball 450 times. Just when you thought the interminable bouncing was over, a film of said enterprise began to screen at the top of the set just so you wouldn’t forget. (I never have.)
Performance art has waned in Boston of late but for years The MOBIUS Group hosted a ream of performances like Mary Novotny-Jones’ annual blindfolded walk around the perimeter of MOBIUS’ warehouse roof: risky business indeed and just what Blessing honors and satirizes at the same time with CHESAPEAKE.
Lyman’s tour de force as the intrepid artist and dogjacker and everyone else is the must see performance of the season. Kudos to Lyman and director Doug Lockwood. Blessings’s play delivers a coup all by itself with a second act you could never imagine. We were all guessing at intermission where CHESAPEAKE would go and we were all wrong. I don’t want to give anything away but if New Rep were to enter Lucky at Westminster, the dog would win every ribbon in the show.