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THE MACHINE depicts the epic battle between grandmaster Garry Kasparov and IBM computer Deep Blue (photo by Stephanie Berger)

THE MACHINE depicts the epic battle between grandmaster Garry Kasparov and IBM computer Deep Blue (photo by Stephanie Berger)

Park Avenue Armory, Wade Thompson Drill Hall
643 Park Ave. at 67th St.
Through September 18, $45-$90

In The Machine, playwright Matt Charman and director Josie Rourke turn the 1997 chess match between grandmaster Garry Kasparov and IBM’s Deep Blue computer into a lively, riveting, edge-of-your-seat multimedia sports event. With the audience sitting on raised bleachers on all four sides of the stage in the Park Avenue Armory’s massive Wade Thompson Drill Hall, Kasparov (Hadley Fraser) battles Deep Blue, operated by its cocreator Dr. Feng-Hsiung Hsu (Kenneth Lee). As the hard-fought six-game match continues, flashbacks reveal critical moments in the main competitors’ lives. Kasparov, who lost his father at a young age, is still a child when he takes on grandmaster Anatoly Karpov (Cornelius Booth), his mother (Francesca Annis) determined to have him be accepted to Karpov’s famous school. Hsu, at Carnegie Mellon, teams up with fellow student Murray Campbell (Trevor White) to attempt to improve a chess computer built by their professor, Dr. Hans Berliner (John Ramm), while struggling to commit to his cheerleader girlfriend, Tamsin (Antonia Bernath). During the match itself, cameras move around Lucy Osborne’s inventive set, projecting images onto an overhead Jumbotron while a pair of announcers detail the action. Two of the most thrilling moments occur when at first chessboards, then computers are pushed around the square stage along lighted tracks, beautifully choreographed scenes (by Jonathan Watkins) that continue the theme of man vs. machine, equating the two fields. Fraser plays Kasparov with a nervous energy that highlights his growing fear and worry as the games go on, while Lee’s Hsu is jumpy and awkward as he gives up any chance of a personal life in order to invent the best. During the course of the show, Kasparov is alternately referred to as both “too human” and a “monster,” while he accuses the IBM team of cheating because Deep Blue made what he believes to clearly be human moves in the second game, as this engaging Donmar Warehouse production once again focusing on the similarities between the machine that is man and the machine that is built by man. Be sure to arrive early, as there are many chess sets at the armory where visitors are encouraged to sit down and play.

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