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OK. Let me be  totally honest for just a moment. When I heard that there was a play about a chess game, my initial thought was, “Oh wow! The only thing more exciting than this would be a musical about tuberculosis!”  Being uninformed about this intricate game of strategy led me believe that I would use this two hours in a darkened room to catch up on my sleep. But, it is not the job of the reviewer to project his or her opinion on the subject,rather the content of the subject .  And while I did not leave “The Machine” with a greater appreciation or understanding of the game, I left feeling surprisingly provoked and intruiged.

Matt Charman’s hugely compelling play, now playing at the Park Avenue Armory weaves a true tale about an iconic 1997 chess match between Garry Kasparov and IBM super computer Deep Blue. Kasparov was a 20 year undefeated chess champion with a yen for strategy and a huge tolerance towards a pushy, overbearing mother (delivered with a perfect level of abrasion by British actress Francesca Annis).

How does one handle losing when he is an assured winner for so long? Where is the line between passion and obsession drawn? When the proverbial chips are down, can machines provide the solace and comfort we crave as humans? These are just a few of the ethical and moral dilemmas posed in this smartly written and directed production which makes its’ US debut after a premiere earlier this year at the Manchester International Festival.

While the technical aspects of any theater production are usually meant to enhance the experience, it should be mentioned that Mark Henderson and Lucy Osborne’s  set and lighting designs are truly leading player here. With cameras and large screen projections around each quadrant of the stage, the audience is witness to each move on the chess board and  every furrowed brow of Kasparov. Through that, we are pulled into a taut cat and mouse thriller that reads like a spy novel of breakneck speed.

 

“The Machine” plays a limited engagement at the stunning Park Avenue Armory through Sept. 18, 2013. Tickets are available online athttps://commerce.armoryonpark.org/single/PSDetail.aspx?psn=227  or  by phone at: (212) 933-5812.

 

Photo courtesy of Joel Chester Fildes.
Photo courtesy of Joel Chester Fildes.