Soulstice Theatre’s “Chess”

By - Jul 31st, 2010 12:24 pm
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Anatoly (Brian Myers, seated left) and Freddie (Patrick Fennelly) play one of the many chess matches.

Chess is a game of calculated risk. Chess (lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson), which the Soulstice Theatre is running through Aug. 14, aims to illustrate the risks of a colossal psychological arms race seemingly built into human DNA. The show binds together song, dance, U.S.-Soviet rivalries and the most exciting game in the world.

Chess is a risk for Soulstice, too. The company’s auditorium space, at the Marian Center for Non-Profits, presents challenges with sight lines. Even with a raked platform, it can be hard to make out the action on the stage-sized chess board, with its human game pieces. Fortunately, game action is not as crucial as the mood of the moment, which the actors communicate well. They make full use of the playing space on stage, on a nearby ramp and in the roomy aisles.

Florence (Lisa Gold), Anatoly (Brian Myers) and Freddie (Patrick Fennelly) lead the cast very well. Myers’ Russian chess master is unaffected, deliberate and powerful. When he sings Where I Want to Be, he forges a personality at once charged with energy and carefully concealed. His eyes say nothing; his voice says everything. Fennelly’s brash, all-American paparazzi darling, by contrast, is all power and no control. His big number, Pity the Child, was a little slow to pull us in but finally knocked it out of the park by bringing some humanizing honesty to a self-obsessed character. Gold’s Nobody’s on Nobody’s Side motivates the entire piece by tying interpersonal relations to the overreaching themes of international relations in a world of mutually assured destruction.

This is a good show, overall, though the cast varies in age and experience. I do wish they’d seen to a couple of distracting details: The US flag should be hung properly (stars in the left-hand corner) and one human pawn shouldn’t be allowed to knock off another directly in front of it. Against the rules of chess, you know. And one more thing: Do bring a cushion to ease the pain of the very hard seats.

Chess benefits the Peace Learning Center of Milwaukee, Inc, which aims to be “a catalyst in the community for non-violent conflict management and respect for self, others, and the environment.”

Chess plays through August 14 at the Marian Center, 3211 S. Lake Dr., just off of S. Superior Street. For tickets, $14 and $12, call  414 431-3187. Note that the Marian Center’s auditorium is all the way around the building and up three flights of stairs. Visit the Soulstice website for further information.

Categories: Theater

0 thoughts on “Review: Soulstice Theatre’s “Chess””

  1. Anonymous says:

    I don’t believe this reviewer saw the same musical I did this weekend. I wanted to love this production, as I traveled a long distance to see it, but I didn’t enjoy it. This musical has been one of my favorites since 1986, when I first saw it, but this production lacked an evenness that made it painful to watch. The lead role of Florence was badly miscast. The only time I could hear her was when she was singing very shrilly, her voice was all wrong for the part. The actor who portrayed Freddy had some very good moments, but they were usually in the last half of his songs. His voice seemed to get stronger as each song progressed. Whether it was him starting out timidly or the sound person slow to react, it was very annoying. Much of the cast could not project their voices well enough to compensate for a bad sound system or be heard over a very good group of musicians. The bright spots of the performance were Brian Myers, who portrayed Anatoly, Josh Perkins who was the arbiter, and Charles Lynch who was Nikolai. Their voices boomed from the stage with confidence and conviction. They were the stars of the show. The set design was also very good. I have seen 40 theatrical productions this year, from High School to College to church to Community to Professional to Broadway Tours, and this production was the poorest by far due to the miscasting of Florence, the timidity of many in singing their parts and the sound system.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi Peter, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Just curious, which night did you see the show?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Soulstice Theatre’s latest offering is a production of the musical “Chess”, an older brother of sorts to the smash-hit “Mamma Mia!” featuring a score from the same composers who were formerly half of the pop sensation ABBA. While “Mamma Mia!” is light and frivolous with a plot incidental to its chart topping hit singles, “Chess” is a deliberate, plodding take on the milieu of the Cold War.

    The biggest problem with “Chess” is the lack of sympathy the three main characters engender from the audience. Freddie, the American grandmaster, spends most of the show as an obnoxious antagonist. Florence, the female love interest, starts as a shrill nag and graduates onto home-wrecking adulteress. Anatoly, the Soviet grandmaster, is a likable underdog in the first act, but fritters away goodwill in the second through his chronic disloyalty. Without a character to identify with, there’s no reason to care about their drama.

    The second biggest problem with “Chess” is the running length. The musical takes its sweet time using song to advance the circuitous plot. With a run-time of nearly three hours, the hard wooden seats in the sweltering third-floor auditorium of the musty Marian Center become like some sort of old-fashioned Catholic school corporal punishment. Or perhaps a spiritual exercise in trying the audience’s patience.

    Soulstice’s production of “Chess” is laudable for its ambition, albeit maybe a bit too ambitious, as it suffers from stretching its impressive talent pool too thin. Difficult to enjoy because of an uneven cast, uncomfortable venue, and unsympathetic characterizations, Soulstice’s “Chess” is a flawed yet promising milestone along the trajectory of an up-and-coming theater company.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I saw the show Saturday.

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