by Lorie Lewis Ham
The New Ensemble in Fresno is known for thought provoking plays, and their latest, Chesapeake, is no exception. Don’t miss out on the final weekend of this play at the Broken Leg Stage in the Tower District.
In Chesapeake, the main character Kerr is a performance artist with a vendetta against a conservative politician making cuts to the National Endowment of the Arts. Through a mutual connection with the Senator’s dog, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Kerr and the Senator battle each other and then begin to understand one another a little bit better.
This is a one-man show where one actor tells the story and plays all of the parts in the story, shared TNE artistic director Heather Parish. She wanted TNE to do this show because it is thoughtful, well written, and very relevant as we’re headed into an election year. “Lee Blessing, the playwright, is a master storyteller and this show is a terrific challenge for the actor playing Kerr.”
James Sherrill is the actor playing Kerr in this production. James has worked on another of Blessings’ plays before, Two Rooms, and enjoys the characters and the many wonderful places he takes his stories. “This project has been a fantastic experience for me. The show is wonderfully written, I have a great friend for my director who works with me on a real and no-nonsense level, and I am proud of the final product. I am certain that audiences will walk away smiling, and more importantly, thinking.”
This is director Anthony Rico Nan’s first directing foray outside of an academic setting—he recently graduated with his masters in theatre from the University of Portland. “TNE is thrilled to be giving such new talent an opportunity to gain experience and stretch their wings a bit,” said Heather.
Anthony said he wanted to direct this show because he is interested in directing work that has the potential to start a dialogue in the community. “The play excites me because it offers no clear solution to its core subject of federal funding for the arts. Rather than being beat over the head with a didactic message, the author leaves it to the audience to pass their own judgment. Rarely can you find a piece of work with a clear point of view that does not subject the audience to the playwright’s agenda. What I love is that Chesapeake is as funny and mysterious as it is potent and cerebral. Regardless if you are red or blue, hate modern art or love it, this play keeps audiences laughing and thinking.”
Using multimedia images and sound effects to enhance the story, Heather stated that Chesapeake has the feel of a Rogue Performance Festival show– but with the added oomph of being written as a full-length, fully staged piece of theatre. “It will start off feeling very familiar to people who have attended a Rogue Festival show, but then it will taken them even further.”
”The New Ensemble emphasizes theatre that asks questions more than it gives pat answers,” continued Heather. “Audiences will immediately respond to Chesapeake’s whimsy and humor, but will walk away with questions about what kind of people do we want speaking for us– both as politicians and as artists.”
As to the rest of the season for TNE, in February they have their first series of Hot Off the Stages Play Readings, in April comes their small-cast Hamlet starring Brooke Aiello in the title role, and then guest director, FSU professor of theatre J. Daniel Herring, directs a hot new title called Baptized To The Bone and they finish up the year with the gritty, psychological thriller, “Bug”.
You can still see Chesapeake at the Broken Leg Stage in Fresno’s historic Tower District, 1470 N. Van Ness between Floradora and McKinley. Remaining evening performances are January 12, 13 and 14 at 8 p.m. with a Saturday matinee on January14 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 online or reserved in advance, and $12 walk-ins. Thursday, January 12 is Cheap Seats Night with all tickets only $5. Reservations are recommended as the Broken Leg Stage only seats 50. (559) 457-9613 for will-call reservations or check out their website for information or online tickets.