By Elizabeth Smislova
The current Mimes and Mummers’ musical “Chess” opens with the song “The Story of Chess” that implies the game of pawns and queens is just a metaphor for the real game of life or love.
But alas, it is actually about chess.
Presently, Collins Auditorium is serving as the setting for intense chess matches and (confusingly) rock stars. The cast of “Chess” don Kiss-esque makeup and colorful leather clothing, all surrounded by a talented band on stage serving as the ironic backdrop to a show about an otherwise quite serious and quiet board game.
The synopsis on the ticket says the musical is about chess, which was apparently taken very seriously during the Cold War. The protagonist of sorts is Florence (Michelle Corr, FCRH’17), the manager of an American chess player, Freddy (Michael Bottei, FCRH ’20). Florence falls in love with Freddy’s arch nemesis and Russian chess star Anatoly (Ryan Doran, GSB’19), which becomes the main tension of the show.
The dynamics between the chess players serve as a microcosm of what is going on globally between their homelands. Florence also has a personal connection to the Cold War, as she is originally from Budapest where she believes her father was killed when she was four years old.
First off, as a Russian, I was very impressed with the accents of Anatoly and his manager Molokov (Zach Zalis, FCRH ’19). Russian accents are not easily pulled off, and doing them well made the show more interesting and realistic.
However, I was constantly confused about why the Russians and Americans were playing chess in Bangkok during the Cold War anyway, in addition to their peculiar choice of punk clothing. I got the impression that chess was a metaphor for the characters and their disruption of power and switching of sides, so to speak, but it was still a little strange.
That being said, I think the show “Chess” itself is just not my favorite. However, I think the Mimes and Mummers did a fantastic job with their rendition; the onstage band, eclectic costumes, smoke machine and astounding vocals made it entertaining despite the confusing plot.
There are many difficult ballads and rock songs, and they were all done well. Florence in particular really stuck out as a talented singer and was definitely a pleasure to watch. However, the number of songs was a little tedious towards the end as there was hardly a five-minute interval of just dialogue and no music. Each song was individually enjoyable, but after several in a row, it was a bit repetitive without allowing for character development through interaction with other characters.
Some of the plot was also a little hard to believe, like Florence and Anatoly’s falling in love during a song together, when not even a hint of their mutual affection was previously mentioned. The show was sometimes hard to follow and slow because of the excessive songs, but it was still enjoyable and interesting.
It has been said that a good story shows and does not tell, but I think “Chess” is an example of one that could use more telling. I feel the the show uses songs to move the plot in ways that do not always make sense. However, these musical numbers showcase the talent of the Mimes and Mummers cast well.
“Chess” may take place during the Cold War, but it also acts like it in the sense that it is important, but it is hard to say what exactly transpired during it. It is more about transference of power than actual plot—a state of strained relations between two powerful entities. The characters are just pawns in that game, or lack thereof.
“Chess” is showing in Collins Auditorium on Feb. 24 and Feb. 25 at 8:00 p.m. and Feb. 26 at 2:00 p.m. $5.00 with student ID, $12.00 without.