Lyman goes to the dogs in New Rep’s ‘Chesapeake’

WATERTOWN — When you come right down to it, there’s really nothing unusual about a performance artist channeling a dog.

Even a Chesapeake Bay retriever named Lucky.

Georgia Lyman in New Repertory Theatre’s “Chesapeake.” Photo: Christopher McKenzie Theatrical Photography

Through Dec. 16, the New Repertory Theatre is staging Lee Blessing’s comedy, “Chesapeake,” the adventures of a performance artist determined to protect his/her art — and a federal grant — from the censorship efforts of a dog-loving right-wing Southern politician.

It features a bravura solo performance by Georgia Lyman as Kerr, the performance artist who tells the somewhat convoluted tale. Lyman is an agile, athletic actress who prowls the aisles of the Black Box Theater at the Arsenal Center for the Arts like a sleek tigress, a storyteller seeking approval for her story. In a solo performance, such engagement with the audience is a must; if she doesn’t do it, who will?

Not surprisingly, Kerr, operating under an NEA grant, is in hot water after a performance during which he quotes verses from the Bible while audience members systematically strip him naked.

That attracts the attention of one Therm Pooley, a stand-in for U.S. Sens. Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms and their ilk, who uses his prop of a pet — a Chesapeake Bay retriever Lord Ratliff of Luckymore, Rat or Lucky for short — and the bashing of Kerr and the NEA to mount a winning campaign.

That prompts an enraged Kerr to plot a dog-napping of Rat, which ends badly for both thanks to a horrific fall from a dam. But Kerr rises again, this time reincarnated as a Chesapeake Bay retriever also named Lucky, who plays a most prominent role in Pooley’s ultimate decision not to go after the NEA.

Kerr as Lucky, through a few well-placed strokes on a computer keyboard, convinces Pooley that God is speaking to him.

Lyman as Kerr also gives voice to a variety of characters, including Pooley, his attractive assistant Stacey, and Polley’s wife no-nonsense wife Blythe.

Yes, along the way Blessing is also making his argument that the NEA and other forms of government support are a necessity, and that censorship in any form is evil.

The cynic in him has Polley admitting that conservatives don’t really want to get rid of the NEA grants; they’re a convenient stick with which to periodically bash liberals.

It’s all clever, and it’s all fun, and Lyman’s storytelling skills and Director Doug Lockwood keep things moving along at a breakneck clip.

Props to the sound design by David Reiffel, bringing the canines in the story to life.

The New Repertory Theatre production of Lee Blessing’s “Chesapeake.” Directed by Doug Lockwood. At the Black Box Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts through Dec. 16.