Richard McElvain’s United Solo performance of The Chess Player was the New York City premiere of his reimagining of Stefan Zweig’s classic novella, The Royal Game. McElvain approaches the material on several levels, imbuing the story with contemporary relevance while honoring the original’s politics and emotion. Zweig, who wrote the novella in exile in Argentina, ended his life just days after completing the manuscript. His condemnation of fascism in the book is as strong as his final statement.
McElvain shares this history with the audience. The actor breaks the fourth wall several times during the play to invite the audience to go with him on Dr. B’s journey. But it is his dramatic performance that wins the audience’s attention – the tenderness with which he plays the prisoner, Dr. B. conveys his empathy with the author’s point of view.
McElvain expertly plays all of the characters in his play. Dizzyingly running through changes in posture, accent and expression, he brings each to life. One of the most interesting portrayals is Mirko Czentovic, who he portrays almost entirely through squints, growls and brandishing of a red handkerchief. The character of Dr. B is a crowning achievement. As the prisoner goes mad over the course of months held in isolation and interrogated by Nazis, the pacing of McElvain’s speech and calibrated movement in the tiny space cycles the character through the effects of his isolation, from fortitude to despair, to madness to hope.
The lighting and brilliant soundscape by Larry Buckley viscerally completes the transformation of the black box theater into the prisoner’s tortured mind.
"The Chess Player"
Written and performed by Richard McElvain
March 9, 2023
The Spring 2023 United Solo Festival
March 7th - March 26th, 2023
410 West 42nd (btw 9th and 10th Avenue)
STEPHANIE EAGAN is a professional writer based in NJ. A fan of every type of live performance imaginable, from taiko drumming to political performance art, she travels the tri-state area and beyond in search of music, art, theater, and excellent coffee.