“The Chess Lesson” at the IRT Theater

January 9, 2013 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
The Chess Lesson” at the IRT Theater (Closed January 27, 2013)
By Sari Caine
Directed by Elizabeth Miller
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Sari Caine’s “The Chess Lesson” is a delightful trope for humankind’s inveterate attempt to understand “how things came to be.” Was there a creation? If so, was it a “big bang” or a divinely orchestrated event? Were there rules governing that creation? Did humankind “disobey those rules? Whose rules were/are they: those of some divine being or rules created by humankind itself? What happens when rules are broken? And can humankind – even in brokenness – return to its idyllic “pre-Fall” state?

When Mateo (David Crommett), Isabella (Meg Fee) and her husband Paul (David Rigo) decide to take chess lessons from their children’s teacher (Sari Caine), the rituals of creation, disobedience, fall, repentance, forgiveness and redemption come into sharp focus. Playwright Sari Caine skillfully uses the extended metaphor of the game of chess as the game of life to explore the important issues of the fall from and the return to states of grace in relationships and in interpersonal psychological health. As the three parents struggle to learn the game of chess, they confront their individual and interpersonal challenges to cope with each other and external reality.

Individually, and as an ensemble, the actors manage to engage the audience in the exploration of who we are, how we got that way, and where we want to go in our futures. As the Teacher, playwright Sari Caine watches her adult students dissolve into the squabbles typical of their children. Although she manages to continue to hold fast to her “rules,” she eventually joins them in their in a psycho-sexual meltdown of epic proportions. Ms. Caine’s performance here is just short of brilliant.

It is never easy for humanity to have attained the knowledge of good and evil. Mateo, Isabella, and Paul taste of that fruit in the classroom of life and struggle to find their way back to normalcy and viability. However, Ms. Caine’s mature and engaging absurdist script assures that her characters transcend even the confines of redemption and leave the knowledge of good and evil behind along with the “Fall” itself. At play’s end, creation and creator dance a new dance of acceptance of the limitations and joys of simply being human. Director Elizabeth Miller makes all of this work with efficiency and clarity on her and Daryl Embry’s expansive classroom set.

Slightly Altered States Theater Company’s “The Chess Lesson” is worth a look at the IRT Theater Space. The quirky new play is evidence that things are not always what they seem and that is a very good thing.