Saturday, May 14, 2011


I love Chess--meaning two things. Naturally, that game we all know (haven't played it in forever--someone be my opponent, please!), but also the musical.

The musical, mwah ha ha! Did you guys know there's a musical called Chess? 'Cause I sure didn't until my awesomeness-personified best friend introduced me to it. It's dark, romantic, political, deep, haunting, and just generally EPIC. (Also, it has the voices of Josh Groban (MELTMELTMELT!), Idina Menzel (LOVELOVELOVE!), and Adam Pascal (.....How do I describe his voice? I'll come back to this in a PS!) all in one place! That's like asking me to dissolve into a happy little puddle on the floor and never move again!)

One thing perplexed me, though, during my second and third watch-throughs (Chess in Concert performance DVD for the win!). The more I watched, the more I came to know the characters, and the more one scene--my favorite scene--didn't make sense to me. As a brief walk-through, Chess is spread over two years for two World Chess Championships in a row. In the first, the American champion Freddy Trumper (Adam Pascal!) and the Russian champion Anatoly Sergievsky (Josh Groban!) are the competitors, and Anatoly comes out on top. The second has Anatoly defending his title (after defecting to Britain) against the new Russian champion Notimportant Whatshisname. When Anatoly shows up in Bangkok for the second championship, he finds attacks on every side trying to convince him to throw the match. Threats against himself, he brushes aside, but there are also threats against his family and lover, which he struggles with. SO! The scene I'm getting to is the final match of the second championship--the game everything's been leading up to.

Naturally the whole scene is set to music, and the orchestration, vocal performances, and lyrics for the song are magnificent, with this perfect building energy that just explodes at the end. Love, love, love! But as I watched it those few times, I was completely perplexed by the character interactions. Anatoly steps down from the chess podium as he sings and is confronted by the two characters most influential for him. Their parts are brilliant and the scene's lyrics really show the entire internal conflict Anatoly's facing, but both of those characters were completely different from the last scene they'd appeared in. The first was being openly antagonistic and scathing rather than using the subtle guilt trips she'd employed previously, and the second was furious and hurt over something she'd decided to rise above in her last scene. On top of that, in their final exchange with Anatoly, they use the exact same words he first used on them (very striking, intense lyrics--I lost my breath the first time I watched!), as if they'd come to a bitter agreement. But there's no way! They were screaming their heads off at him only moments before! It made no sense to me at all. I watched the full scene over and over, trying to puzzle it out, and I couldn't make it all link up for the life of me.

Finally, it occured to me that I'd been overlooking one crucial detail--Anatoly walked away from the chess game. Walked away. And yet, in the climax of his song, the chorus behind the three main characters gladly shouts "Check!" at him over and over to inform him that the Russian champion has him cornered, and then as the song ends, Anatoly strides back and makes his final move. Which means that the chess game was ongoing the entire time, and he couldn't just walk away. It's the World Chess Championships! I think if he suddenly walked away, there'd be just a bit of an uproar from the world.

So, after mentally flicking myself for being oblivious, I ran through the scene again, this time taking the perspective that it was, literally, all in his head. He didn't go anywhere, and the confrontations were his private images of the two characters and what he thought their feelings toward him at the moment were. They also served as an outlet for his mind to throw at him all sides of his inner conflict. He'd made his decision to [spoiler], but he still felt conflicted, and the final stanza really was a bitter agreement, but it was his mind finally coming to terms with itself so that he could move forward. (Totally epic!)

Anyway, what does this have to do with anything, you might ask? (Most importantly perceptions, since that's the title of the whole ranty post) I'm getting there! No, Polonius is not my idol; why do you ask? (I dearly hope you've read/seen Hamlet. If not, what are you doing here reading these words words wwwooo~orrddsss? Slacker!)

After the revelation of the entire scene being an internal conflict, I loved it even more, and while I listened to the song on repeat, it got me thinking about how Anatoly's perceptions (ha!) of the people in his life are so completely different from what we as the audience saw in reality. Holy cow, hats off to Tim Rice and anyone else involved in that writing. He/they mastered that human flaw of assuming we understand the people around us and acting based on that rather than truly communicating with others.

I realized that's something I need to work on in my writing. I know my own characters, so I tend to have them interact based off of my knowledge and perceptions rather than their own, especially in tense and hurtful situations. Sadly, we as people tend to speak before we think, which results in hurt all too often, and I realized I try to avoid that with my characters because I hate when it happens in real life. But it happens! We can't truly know the people around us because we're not them; we just have to try our best based on the interactions we've had with them, and if two characters haven't had any good impressions from one another, they're going to be tense and hostile.

So, I'll add it to the pile of things to work on and start practicing. In the meantime, I want the rest of you to hunt down a copy of Chess in Concert and bask in it's magnificence. Then come back so we can talk what makes a good guy versus what makes a hero! (Goodness, I love Anatoly!)

~ Lizzy
Current word count today: 1,165
Current song: Endgame #3/Chess Game #3 from Chess in Concert [Josh Groban, Idina Menzel, Kerry Ellis]
Current quote: "Everybody's playing the game, but nobody's rules are the same." ~ Chess in Concert [Idina Menzel]

PS!: (Ha! You didn't forget, did you?) Adam Pascal! Oh, wow, let me attempt to describe his voice. First of all, my favorite singers are people with very striking voices--those people who you can always pick out in a full band or chorus because they couldn't be mistaken for anyone else. (Josh, Idina, and Adam all fit that, by the way, I just didn't have any more catchy words to do THISTHISTHIS! to for Adam, haha) The first time I heard Adam Pascal, it was a small clip of Rent, and his voice was almost too different for me--honestly, I closed the clip and didn't expect to come back to it. Until five minutes later when I found it tugging at my brain. So I listened again. And again. And again. His voice is addicting, I tell you! He conveys this raw emotion that's just incredible. Anyway, what are you doing reading this? Don't take my word for it, slacker, just go listen to him! (Most preferrably, just go watch Chess, like I told you to do before! And then we can talk Adam's character too!)

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