Theater: ‘The Machine’ infuses chess with emotional drama

The American premiere of this new chess play is surprisingly thrilling. And you don't need to know anything about chess. Credit: Stephanie Berger
The American premiere of this new chess play is surprisingly thrilling. And you don’t need to know anything about chess.

How do you write a play about a historical chess tournament and keep it engaging for audiences — even when they likely know how the real-life story turned out? In Matt Charman’s “The Machine,” it’s done by interjecting snippets of engaging backstory about the men behind the chess pieces, humanizing them to their utmost, giving the seemingly intellectual pursuit more than a few emotional stakes as well.

The majority of the play takes place in 1997, during the famous six-game match between world chess prodigy Garry Kasparov (Hadley Fraser) and the newest IBM supercomputer, Deep Blue. Other scenes cover the formative moments in the rigid upbringing of Russian Kasparov and the Carnegie Mellon collegiate days of Feng-Hsiung Hsu (Kenneth Lee, the lead developer of Deep Blue).

The tone is set well before the actors take their marks. The theater is arranged like a sporting arena within the massive 55,000-square-foot drill hall of the Park Avenue Armory, with stadium seating on four sides of a square stage topped with screens, a la score boards. On these screens, audience members watch the tournament unfold as if through their TVs, the way many watched the event in real time from their couches at home over a decade ago. Close-up aerial views of the men’s dizzying feats of chess-playing are stunning on a meta level, making viewers keenly aware of the amount of work that must have gone into the actors’ choreography to reenact those notorious strategies.

Of course, in this story, the men who face off in the tournament are themselves like machines, while the machine takes on suspiciously humanistic characteristics right before the players’ eyes. Toeing the line between technophobia and all-too-human paranoia, this play keenly balances both sides of the board, setting up a taut and thrilling parable where the lines between antagonist/protagonist are blurred and absolutely nothing is black-and-white.

‘The Machine’
Through Sept. 18
Park Avenue Amory
643 Park Ave.
$90
www.parkarmory.org

Follow T. Michelle Murphy on Twitter: @TMichelleMurphy

 


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Rapper affiliate of Wu-Tang Clan 'cuts off own…

Rapper Andre Johnson, who has performed with New York outfit the Wu-Tang Clan, is in a critical condition after reportedly cutting off his own penis…

National

Cleavage complaint: Disneyland staffer orders curvy mom to…

A curvy mom-of-three says she filed a formal complaint after staff at Disneyland Resort in California ordered her to cover up her boobs. Melissa Behnken,…

International

Canadian charged in 'Heartbleed' attack on tax agency

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian police have arrested a 19-year-old man and charged him in connection with exploiting the "Heartbleed" bug to steal taxpayer data from…

National

Every dog has his day in court, in…

(Reuters) - Call him juror K-9.A computer glitch is likely to blame for a summons that called a German Shepherd to report for jury duty,…

Television

‘Survivor: Cagayan’ recap: Episode 8

Sure, it's called Survivor. But this season should really be called 'The Tony Show.'

Television

Jim Rash talks 'The Writer's Room' and amazing…

For Jim Rash, as the fifth season of "Community" comes to a close, the second season of "The Writer's Room" begins.

Television

'Dexter' star Jennifer Carpenter moves into producing role

The actress who played the title character's sister in "Dexter" is teaming up with producer George Stelzner to adapt Erika Hayasaki's book "The Death Class:…

The Word

Wahlburgers announce North America domination

Tuesday was a huge day for Donnie Wahlberg.

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox beat White Sox…

Red Sox walk 15 times in extra innings win

NBA

Kris Humphries on free agency, future with Celtics:…

Kris Humphries on free agency, future with Celtics: 'I hope to be back'

NBA

Celtics turn attention to NBA Draft, improve lottery…

Celtics turn attention to NBA Draft, improve lottery odds with loss

NFL

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April version

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April version

Wellbeing

This Week in Health: chocolate may prevent obesity…

Can chocolate prevent obesity and diabetes? Location of study: U.S. Study subjects: Mice Results: The positive health benefits of chocolate have been studied increasingly more…

Wellbeing

This Week in Health News: breastfed infants trying…

Are breastfed infants trying to prevent mom from having another baby? Theory: The act of breastfeeding not only brings mom and baby closer together –…

Wellbeing

Unexplained infertility may be caused by lack of…

Researchers have identified a protein on the egg's surface that interacts with another protein on the surface of sperm, allowing the two cells to join.

Tech

5 surprising facts about Google Glass

Your sex life could get more interesting.