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
Local

Video: Car crashes into Cambridge store, man arrested…

A Cambridge man was arrested on gun and drug charges after crashing his car into a Massachusetts Avenue storefront early Saturday morning.

Local

Body found believed to be missing Fitchburg boy…

The body of a child found off of a highway in Sterling last week is likely that of missing Fitchburg boy Jeremiah Oliver, authorities said.

Local

Memorial held for Sean Collier, MIT police officer…

More than 1,600 people gathered at MIT on Friday for a memorial service for Sean Collier, the police officer shot to death a year ago in the aftermath of the…

National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

Television

'Orphan Black' recap: Episode 1, ‘Nature Under Constraint…

Welcome to your first Season 2 “Orphan Black” recap! Hopefully Tatiana Maslany can help Tatiana Maslany get through this, with the help of Tatiana Maslany,…

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox defeat Orioles, 4-2

Brock Holt the difference in the Red Sox' win

NHL

NHL video highlights & analysis: Red Wings dump…

NHL video highlights & analysis: Red Wings dump Bruins in Game 1

MLB

MLB video highlights: Orioles top Red Sox, 8-4…

John Lackey roughed up for second straight outing

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox score two in…

Lester shines in Red Sox win over White Sox

Parenting

Is camp right for introverts?

We ask an expert for tips on sending your introverted child to camp

Parenting

How to parent without gender stereotypes in a…

Christia Spears Brown, Phd. author of "Parenting beyond Pink & Blue" gives advice on raising kids free of gender stereotypes.

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.