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THE MACHINE at Park Avenue Armory

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macnyc
Broadway Legend
joined:7/26/08
THE MACHINE at Park Avenue Armory
Posted: 9/5/13 at 12:19am
So, it's not a topic that would make you say, "Hey, what a great idea for a play!" In 1997 grandmaster Garry Kasparov played a six-game chess match against Deep Blue, an IBM computer. How can that possibly work as theater? Watching two guys sitting at a table playing chess? I couldn't imagine how that could be turned into an engrossing play. Plus, we're talking about an actual chess match that we all know the ending of! But when I saw a photo from the Manchester production in July featuring a cavernous space with high-tech lighting, somehow I wanted to see it.

The positives: The staging was great, very dynamic. The large cast made creative use of props (such as chess tables and computer monitors). Two camera operators were continually in motion during the chess match scenes. The feed from the cameras was projected, stadium style, on monitors hanging from the ceiling. The playwright managed to make the story interesting by incorporating flashbacks, moving back and forth through time and space. In the process we can see key scenes from Kasparov's boyhood, his entry into the world of chess, and his relationship with his teacher and eventual rival Anatoly Karpov. The other person under the microscope is a computer scientist, Feng-Hsiung Hsu, who designed the machine. The match became a media circus, much to Kasparov's discomfort, and a marketing coup for IBM, which was in the doldrums. Along the way, people sell out and have to live with the consequences.

So, I guess that is a good idea for a play!

Another positive is the really cool program, perfectly square, with a chess board rendered in white and black. Serious money was spent on that thing.

The major negative for me was the sound, which was heavy on reverb. It echoed throughout the armory and made it hard to understand the dialogue. Some of the actors came off more clearly than others. I couldn't figure out if that was the sound designer's intent or not, but it lessened my enjoyment of the play. Also, we were sitting way high up, and I wondered if the folks down below had less trouble.

Also, running time was pretty much two hours, no intermission. After about an hour and a half, fatigue started to set in.

The Machine is playing only until Sept. 18, so if you're interested, don't wait! I recommend it, and maybe now I'll read the reviews from Manchester.












Updated On: 9/5/13 at 12:19 AM
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dshnookie
Broadway Star
joined:9/15/07
THE MACHINE at Park Avenue Armory
Posted: 9/5/13 at 12:29am
nice review, thanks for sharing
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ClydeBarrow
Broadway Legend
joined:6/20/12
THE MACHINE at Park Avenue Armory
Posted: 9/5/13 at 12:30am
It doesn't really seem that great based on your review. I can't say that I would be too jazzed about 2 hours with no intermission. I was pretty much on this fence about this one but I think I'll skip it. Hopefully the sound issue isn't a recurrent problem at The Armory because I was looking forward to Branagh's MACBETH next year.
"Pardon my prior Mcfee slip. I know how to spell her name. I just don't know how to type it." -Talulah
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Play Esq.
Broadway Star
joined:7/10/09
THE MACHINE at Park Avenue Armory
Posted: 9/5/13 at 12:43am
^ ditto. Suddenly no interest.

I have been to the Armory on numerous occasions, in particular the NY Phil 360 concerts last summer. Sound is not a problem per se at the venue, but needs to be addressed properly.
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macnyc
Broadway Legend
joined:7/26/08
THE MACHINE at Park Avenue Armory
Posted: 9/5/13 at 12:49am
I have a feeling that the designer wanted the sound to echo like that. Still, this was the first preview, so maybe changes will be made.
Libby1209
Understudy
joined:7/22/09
THE MACHINE at Park Avenue Armory
Posted: 9/5/13 at 05:34am
Hadley Frasier (spelling?) is in this, no?
macnyc Profile Photo
macnyc
Broadway Legend
joined:7/26/08
THE MACHINE at Park Avenue Armory
Posted: 9/5/13 at 08:03am
Yes, he's Kasparov. I thought he was very good in the role.
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WhizzerMarvin TrinaJasonMendel
Broadway Legend
joined:5/26/05
THE MACHINE at Park Avenue Armory
Posted: 9/5/13 at 08:44am
How was the actual text?

Were there more flashback scenes or more staged chess scenes?

Did the show make you want to sing any of Chess?
Marie: Don't be in such a hurry about that pretty little chippy in Frisco. Tony: Eh, she's a no chip!
stevenycguy
Broadway Star
joined:12/7/05
THE MACHINE at Park Avenue Armory
Posted: 9/5/13 at 08:52am
I heard the prior version was almost 3 hours including intermission, so they wanted to make significant cuts. I guess they need to update their running time on their web site to say 2 hours, not 1 hour 40 minutes as they are currently listing.

Updated On: 9/5/13 at 08:52 AM
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macnyc
Broadway Legend
joined:7/26/08
THE MACHINE at Park Avenue Armory
Posted: 9/5/13 at 11:11am
Wow, three hours! Even two hours felt long.

Whizzer, that's an interesting question. (By the way, where's your Big Fish review?) The flashbacks were a considerable part of the show, I would say even the majority of the show.

The actual game play was very exciting and very fast, which makes sense because otherwise, how could you get through six games? The way it was presented was fun, with the movements of the chess pieces done very quickly on an actual physical chess board (and it was amazing how the actors did that), with the action captured by an overhead camera.

My friend thought that we didn't get to know the characters as well as we should have. She said that because we all know in advance how the chess match will end, it's important to have the other narratives presented very strongly, and in her opinion, that was lacking. (She is very knowledgeable about theater, especially English theater.) In contrast, I left the armory feeling satisfied that I had seen a good story, well told.



WhizzerMarvin TrinaJasonMendel Profile Photo
WhizzerMarvin TrinaJasonMendel
Broadway Legend
joined:5/26/05
THE MACHINE at Park Avenue Armory
Posted: 9/5/13 at 11:25am
This sounds interesting to me. Thanks for your answers and initial review.

(Big Fish starts tonight!)
Marie: Don't be in such a hurry about that pretty little chippy in Frisco. Tony: Eh, she's a no chip!
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FANtomFollies
Featured Actor
joined:4/5/12
THE MACHINE at Park Avenue Armory
Posted: 9/5/13 at 11:25am
for those complaining about reverb and sound issues- I know they are hanging black soft goods today which will hopefully solve that.
macnyc Profile Photo
macnyc
Broadway Legend
joined:7/26/08
THE MACHINE at Park Avenue Armory
Posted: 9/5/13 at 11:28am
Whizzer, I think you would really enjoy The Machine or at least find it interesting, for the staging alone.

Oh, good move about hanging the cloth! I guess that means that the reverb wasn't intentional.

Also, some people who were at the show last night are saying that the performance didn't last for two full hours, so I may have been inaccurate about that. I had shut my phone off before the show, but it seemed to me that it started about five minutes late (it was scheduled for 7:30), but it may have been later than that. It ended at 9:25.




Updated On: 9/5/13 at 11:28 AM
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HogansHero
Leading Actor
joined:2/26/12
THE MACHINE at Park Avenue Armory
Posted: 9/5/13 at 02:33pm
it went up over 10 minutes late. the actual run time was about 1:45. not a bad show, but not a great one either.
dave1606
Broadway Star
joined:12/8/07
THE MACHINE at Park Avenue Armory
Posted: 9/11/13 at 11:36pm
I saw this tonight and was definitely somewhere in the middle. It was interesting, but not amazing. The play itself was rather dramatically inert. The structure of the flashbacks during the matches tended to interrup the action and sometimes they weren't always very compelling.

The cast was uniformly great and I was thrilled to see the lovely Francesca Anis onstage here in the us! I saw her while I was in london a few years back in Under the Blue Sky which I really enjoyed. Hadley Frasier was also very good.

I found the ending of the play totally uninspiring and trivial, and I think thats why I am coming off more negative than positive. I really did enjoy the production elements especially the lighting and video design.

I wouldn't call this a must see, but I would say that it is definitely often inspired and interesting theater.