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BEUTFL PRBLMS

Andrew Laurenson and chorus. Photo by Michael SiderBEUTFL PRBLMS - a collectively devised production written by and performed by Andrew Laurenson, with Lesley Ewen, Billy Marchenski and Emelia Symington Fedy.
Director/dramaturge Paul Ternes
Radix Theatre Society
The Roundhouse Community Centre
May 13 to 21, 2011

Vancouver, BC:  The premise of this new work - Garry Kasparov's loss of a chess series to a computer - sounded intriguing. I was eager to see the way in which Laurenson and his collaborators would create a spellbinding story from this event. In May 1997, chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov, world champion for twelve years running, took on the challenge of beating IBM's Deep Blue Supercomputer. Of the 6 games played, Kasparov won the first game, Deep Blue the second, three were played to a draw and the final game was won by Deep Blue. Had technology triumphed over humanity? Well not really. Since Deep Blue was designed and programmed by a team of 5 IBM scientists and one International Grandmaster, it would be more fair to say that one man was beaten by a collective.

Lesley Ewen, Emelia Fedy, Billy Marchenski, Andrew Laurenson. Photo by Michael Sider.Taking as a starting point  his own desire to learn chess with a RadioShack chess game as tutor and opponent, Laurenson draws on a succession of unrelated historical figures and events to accompany him on his journey to maturity. Chess pieces come to represent famous figures from Gandhi, John Lennon, Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth and fairy tale characters, to Laurenson's family.

Marchenski, Ewen, Laurenson and the chorus. Photo by Michael SiderThe play is seemingly auto-biographical with Laurenson speaking from a first person perspective. In the game of chess Laurenson is the King. At times he is also his father.

Lesley Ewen is the Queen and sometimes his mother; Billy Marchenski is the Knight and son (meaning that he is Laurenson in flashback?);  Emilia Symington Fedy is a pawn striving to usurp the Queen's crown but is at other times the daughter. 

These lead characters are supported by a black-clad chorus drawn from the community, who help move props on and off stage. Their synchronized choreography and stylized gestures added to many of the scenes and filled out the play.

Unfortunately in this production, technology really does trump humanity - oops - trumping is a different game.

The set, chessboard lighting effects and the video projections, and the clever use of  IPhone photos, held my attention in a way that the narrative of the piece did not. For me the pot-pourri of historical events did not inform either the writer's struggle with his personal challenges nor Kasparov's dilemma. The scenes of parental abuse and the suggestion of sibling incest seemed to come out of nowhere, as did the song by musicians Ron Samworth and Andrea Young. We were told up front that an early move made Kasparov's loss to Deep Blue almost inevitable. The climax of the game became almost a non-event and the play lacked any dramatic effect.

Because this play uses personal chronological story-telling as opposed to a narrative structure that builds through cause and effect it lacks the tension that a real chess game would have where one move must be countered by another. Paul Ternes has strong performers to work with but this material gave them little opportunity to shine.

As with Deep Blue versus Kasparov, collectivism triumphed.  For me this production moved like an efficient, well-oiled machine but like Deep Blue it had no soul.

The show runs from the 13 to 21st May  with no performance on the 15th and 16th.
Tickets are $10 to 25
For tickets call 604-254-00707 or buy on-line