A psychologically intriguing whodunit in the guise of a giant chess game now extended thru Nov. 22nd
By Joel Benjamin
The Black Book, written and directed by Phil Blechman at the Sargent Theatre, is a mind-bogglingly circuitous journey into the heart and soul of a college student. Did he, or did he not, commit suicide? Staged on a large chessboard designed by Ann Beyersdorfer, The Black Book moves with breathtaking speed through multiple mini-scenes, often overlapping, which finally coalesce into an actual cat-and-mouse chess game that ingeniously ties up all the loose ends.
Arthur Chase (Gabe Templin), a novice poetry teacher shares a student’s poem first with the friend who helped get him the job, Axel Cooper (Sean Borderes) and then with the school psychologist, Julie Edwards (Margy Love). Gradually it emerges that the student poet, Collin Archer, may be suicidal.
Collin (David Siciliano), the character whose fate drives The Black Book, often speaks directly to the audience, sitting apart from the turmoil on the stage as an observer. Where he is—or even if he is alive—is unclear. He does have a friend, Michael Andrews (Joe Reece) who seems to be having problems with his girlfriend, Nicole (Haley Dean), adding a hint of normalcy to the proceedings. Throughout the play a mysterious pale figure, C.C. (Antonieta Pereira), dressed in an unbuckled straitjacket, wanders about ghostlike until her back story is revealed in the long chess game that is the climax of the play.
And, of course, there’s the titular black book in which Collin has written his most intimate thoughts and feelings. It’s the key to solving the mystery.
The intriguing way all these seemingly disparate elements come together in the denouement makes for a satisfying, very involving evening in the theatre.
Mr. Blechman has a good ear for the language of each of his characters and a great spatial sense, taking the action up the aisles of the intimate theatre. He is helped by Ms. Beyersdorfer’s set, Jennifer O’Brien’s casual costumes, Christopher Marc’s sound design (featuring punctuating clicks and pops) and Susannah Baron’s mood and space-enhancing lighting.
The entire cast—completed by Catie Humphreys—becomes a great ensemble, totally in synch with each other. That they are also great looking takes nothing away from their acting talent.
The Black Book (through November 22, 2015)
Sargent Theatre at the American Theatre of Actors
314 West 54th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, New York, New York
Tickets: 212-581-3044 or www.theblackbook.nyc
Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission