Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Barn Players "Chess" review by BobEvans

Chess--The Musical involves human pawns during Cold War Era Rating: 4

The Barn Players, Inc.

Just imagine a game of chess but real people undertake the roles of pawns while spies and counter agents make the moves in a power struggle during the Cold War era of US and Soviet relations.

Chess, The Barn's current production combines the power struggle, lies, plots, sub-plots, and dirty tricks of the two feuding countries as a metaphor to a game of chess. In this case, the champions from each country face off in a series of matches, to decide the best chess player and world champion. To that, add the background beginning after WWII and the Communist take-over of Eastern European countries. Stir in the struggles of Hungary when it tried to free itself from Soviet rule in 1955. Then, jump forward to the 1980s, the heart of the Cold War, and the lives left hanging in the balance. That sets the backdrop for Chess.

This community theater production sets a new standard for The Barn. All voices, major characters, and the choreography blend, creating a very entertaining theatrical production.

Chess found good reviews and SRO crowds in London where the show originated, but found less acceptance in America. The show ran for over two years in London but only 68 performances on Broadway. That being the case, not a lot of road show developed and traveled successfully through the states. Amazingly, the tension and drama of two countries pitted against one another mirrors the current world situation with the US and North Korea. Neither trusts the other and each wants the superior position.

Director Barb Nichols skillfully selected Rebecca Johnston (Florence) and Robert Hingula (Anatole) to portray the love interests each from opposite worlds and the eventual pawns in a human game of chess. Their strong, clear voices can send chills down audiences. Both solo and duet pieces stand apart from the rest of the ensemble. As for acting, each understands the character and the pathos of the situation. Caught in a desperate struggle to find the "right" happiness, each learns how to love, yet let go. The love story delivers passion and sadness. The show definitely deserves to be called musical theater and most certainly not musical comedy. Nothing in the show elicits laughs. Still, audiences leave feeling entertained.

Two other performances that stand out belong to Kipp Simmons and Brian King. Both deliver strong characters as Russians who manipulate the two main characters. Each of the men have strong voices and their acting further adds to their believability as Russians.

Chess runs through April 28 and challenges viewers to open their eyes and mind to a time almost forgotten since the demise of the Cold War. For those who want to understand how lives can be altered when cultures collide, Chess offers an opportunity to experience that.

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