Review: ‘Chess Match No. 5’—A Tribute to Composer John Cage
By Megan Wrappe, Contributing Writer, March 22, 2017
Chess Match No. 5 is the current production by the Abington Theatre Company playing at the June Havoc Theatre. The show, which felt more like a 90 minute monologue, centers around two characters, He (Will Bond) and She (Ellen Lauren), and a night spent playing a game of chess while eating toast and drinking tea. While both Bond and Lauren are visibly talented actors, they were definitely challenged by their material. Chess Match No. 5 is based entirely on John Cage’s philosophical, artistic, and political writings and statements. He and She speak line upon line of dialogue extracted from Cage’s writing, which potentially may only resonate with a select segment of an audience at best.
But if you separate the source material from the production, you actually have a well put together show. Bond and Lauren both have quite impressive credits, being active members of director Anne Bogart’s SITI Company. The two play off of each other well, making their easy chemistry quite evident. The monotone lines couldn’t take away their fluid body language or their ability to break the fourth wall, going back and forth seamlessly.
Ms. Bogart knows what she’s doing when it comes to directing, despite the less than amusing subject matter. It’s clear that there has been an extreme amount of thought put into the staging, lighting (Brian H. Scott), and simple choreography (Barney O’Hanlon). Bogart does not hide the fact that Cage’s musings have made an impact on her personally as an artist, and she succeeds in giving his work a voice in a proper stage presentation.
If you have never heard of John Cage before, then Chess Match No. 5 may fall on deaf ears. For those who know his work well, there is likely to be an appreciation of hearing actual text pulled straight from his writings and have it then come to life on stage. On the whole, Chess Match No. 5 may suffer from its source material being directed to such a specialized target audience, whereby the overall impact may be lost on many.
Chess Match No. 5 (world premiere) by the Abingdon Theatre Company presented at the June Havoc Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, running through April 2, 2017. Text arranged by Jocelyn Clarke from the words of John Cage. Created by SITI Company; conceived and directed by Anne Bogart; choreography by Barney O’Hanlon; scenic and costume design by James Schuette; lighting design by Brian H Scott; sound design by Darron L West. Cast: Will Bond and Ellen Lauren.
Cover: Ellen Lauren and Will Bond in ‘Chess Match No. 5;’ photo: Maria Baranova.