‘Chesapeake’ retrieves laughter from controversy


Chip Persons portrays Kerr, a performance artist whose funding has been threatened by Congress.

Lee Blessing’s provocative one-person play, “Chesapeake,” takes its cues from the heated culture wars of the late 1980s and early ‘90s, when members of Congress accused federally funded visual and performing artists of peddling obscenity.

That may sound prosaic. But halfway through the hour-and-a-half performance, the play takes a surprising turn.

“There is a marvelous plot twist at the end of act one,” says San Diego-based Lucy Smith Conroy, who will direct CU-Boulder Theatre and Dance’s production of the play, which opens March 13. “It will be funny in a shocking way that really makes you laugh. It has some serious, introspective moments, but overall this is a night of comic theater.”

Assistant Professor and professional actor Chip Persons portrays Kerr, a performance artist whose funding has been threatened by Congress. Kerr, in turn, takes on the guise of U.S. Sen. Therm Pooley and other characters in the course of the play.

“This performance artist assumes he has just one opportunity to influence the world. But it turns out that fate gives him a very different chance to make a difference,” says Persons, who also will play the lead in this summer’s Colorado Shakespeare Festival production of “Richard II.”

The play also represents a twist of a different sort: It’s the first time the department has produced a one-person play performed by a faculty member and staged by a visiting professional director.

“I was extremely pleased that Lucy accepted my invitation to come work with the talented students of CU’s theatre division,” Persons says. “Her vision for this piece will challenge our design and technical students to apply their training in a real-world creative process.”

CU’s production comes on the heels of an October appearance by Tim Miller, one of the “NEA Four,” performance artists whose federal funding was threatened by Congress in 1990. Blessing’s play encompasses themes that go beyond the confines of that specific political struggle.

“It’s about the search for humanity in both ourselves and the people around us,” Conroy says.

 

“Chesapeake,” directed by Lucy Smith Conroy

Performed by Chip Persons

Where: The Loft, University Theatre Building, University of Colorado Boulder

When: 7:30 p.m. March 13-15; 2 p.m. March 16-17; 6:30 p.m. March 17

Tickets: $10 general admission; $8 CU students; $5 high-school students

Box Office: 303-492-8181; or go to http://theatredance.colorado.edu

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