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Chess Match No. 5

Ellen Lauren, Will Bond

                                                                                                Photos by Maria Baranova


                                         By Eugene Paul



Playcrafter Jocelyn Clarke, heeding director Anne Bogart’s long held desire to craft the extraordinary John Cage’s actual expressed  revelations and conclusions regarding time, space, hearing, seeing, sllence, sound has done his darnedest so successfully you actually think Will Bond, as HE and Ellen Lauren as SHE are speaking to each other. And to us, the audience, too, of course. It all seems so meant to be that  director Anne Bogart couldn’t possible have had much to do, which, of course of course means that she has been resoundingly successful.  Her – their – presentation is a delight.


Cage, not everybody’s cup of tea, is difficult, to put it mildly, for the most confounding of reasons: his utter simplicity.  But try and get there. Ha!  Consider that John Cage’s rarified renown as a musician spikes whenever someone refers to his most famous – most notorious? –work: “4:33”. Many of us recognize that that is the title of his composition written for a  single musician, to be performed in four minutes and thirty-three seconds..  During that time, said instrumentalist must remain in position, poised with his or her instrument but remain still, appreciating all the sounds around her or him in the so-called silence.  If you invest yourself in the thought behind the exposition of that concept, infinity occurs. But we’re not ready for infinity yet.


Which is doubtless  why Chess Match No.5 presents its own set of intrigues, exquisitely unfolded by our superb performers using John Cage’s very own words in director Bogart’s very own milieu.  Setting: (by James Schuette) as bland as bland can be, black walls, white floor, then archly twiddled: a ceiling full of approximately 149 mismatched naked light bulbs suspended  to a common level. Center, two chairs, pink seats, either side of a small table.  Upstage right a larger table, rather spare, laden with tea and toast makings.  A wastebasket. Left, another pink seated chair. Downstage left a low table with a radio.


Enter Will Bond as He. He smiles politely, acknowledging us, addresses us as much as he addresses his concepts of how and whether we are seeing what we are seeing and hearing what we are hearing and what that may mean as each separate function or taken together  in conjunction and what that may mean.  It sounds so simple so right, so on the mark that we find ourselves seeing as minutely as we have ever and listening every bit as carefully.  Something’s happened already.  Not so much to him as to us. Watching him prepare tea and toast, is this our chess match, HE versus us? But he’s not competing. He’s just making tea and toast.  How is that competing?


Not until Ellen Lauren , SHE, enters and sets up the chess board at the little table center stage, center room, do we know that indeed, there is a chess match which we – presumably – will observe. All the while, HE and SHE engaging in conversation, more and more the conversation sounding as if HE is, actually, John Cage.  And—so is SHE? Her words are his words, too.  Her thoughts are his, her anecdotes are his, his toast is eaten by her. He makes more.



They dance.  Whatever can this mean, now? They are smiling through their choreography, dancing expertly if not professionally, movements coordinated to each other, to the music, to the sound. What kind of sound is music? Before, when SHE opened the door, there was a blast of sounds, trafficky, peopley.  Was that music, too? And those sounds, those radio mutterings, numbers, Russian?  Spanish? How do we hear them, in what mode, what classification? Or none?  Or acceptance of things as they are?  Our minds are abuzz.  This is not just chess.  But we knew that before we came.


Will Bond and Ellen Lauren are so singularly accomplished, so good at what they do that they positively shine.  This is acting of a kind rarely seen in the city.  And even more rarely heard.  Every word, clear, unassisted. You cannot say that about another performance on any stage, in any theatre in New York City.  I’ll throw in London, too.  Barney O’Hanlon designed the effortless choreography, James Schuette did the costumes as well as the set, Brian H. Scott lighted it all, Darron L. West designed the sounds.  And the title.


Chess Match No.5. At the Abingdon Theatre Company, June Havoc Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues.  Tickets: $55. Discounts. 212-352-3101. 90 min.  Thru Apr 2.


World class thinking, directing, acting. Do not hesitate. Go..