Members say: Slow, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Confusing

About the show

SITI Company and Abingdon Theatre Company present the world premiere of an avant-garde work inspired by American composer, writer, artist, and philosopher John Cage. 

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SITI actors Will Bond and Ellen Lauren create a unique live art performance, part chess game and part music happening, which explores the words and ideas of a visionary artist. Come experience the wide-open mind-bending brilliance of Cage’s insights about the world, art, music, philosophy, and the adventures that life presents. Conceived and directed by veteran theater maker Anne Bogart.

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See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

The New York Times

"They are not visibly doing theater, if that means plot, traditional characters or singing cats. Except, of course, that they are. You just need to recalibrate your expectations…‘Chess Match No. 5’ is a cerebral peek into an artist’s worldview…Will Bond, displaying the impish smile of an eccentric scientist, and Ellen Lauren, whose deceivingly detached inflections recall Laurie Anderson’s, putter around the stage in a manner that feels aimless and deliberate...Go with an open mind—and ears.” Full Review

Time Out New York

"Even as it quotes Cage, 'Match' resists him, and the resulting performance is respectful, warm-hearted, lovely…and inert...There should be an interesting tension between Bogart and Cage—there's so much that's different, they should come together in a crash. But the SITI method sands and polishes and burnishes 'til there's no salient edge left. Though the piece is about Cage, it doesn't use Cage: aside from the chess games, all of Bogart's structures are rigid." Full Review


"Clarke's finished product onstage is—in the most objective sense of the word—boring. And yet, it's so Cage-like in spirit, you almost can't fault Clarke or director Anne Bogart for crafting 'Chess Match No. 5' in just this meandering way...Nevertheless, this sensory stimulation can't bear all the weight of keeping us engaged for the entirety of the plotless conversation between He and She...And yet, you leave the theater seriously questioning whether boredom is a fair basis of criticism." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"Works best as a kind of tribute to a singular figure in 20th-century culture, done with great affection and no small amount of charm...The text doesn't really assist in understanding the line of Cage's thought, and the director's slick, often amusing direction may be at odds with his rather austere ideas. For most of its running time, 'Chess Match No. 5' feels likes an accomplished, but not particularly illuminating, piece of staging that may be a little too superficial for its own good." Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

"Rarely dramatic and primarily intellectual, the dialogue covers Cage's thoughts on his work process, aesthetics, music, art, and life; it can now and then be stimulating, even funny. Because of its patchwork structure, the conversations jump around in subject and manner. But since everything spoken exists in a theatrical vacuum where the speakers, regardless of how well acted, are essentially intellectual abstractions, their words frequently become like the sounds that Cage considered music." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"All I could think of was I am trapped in hell with an adult Mr. Rogers in a nightmare for 90 minutes...Loud noises interspersed with vapid conversation, all while playing chess, and I need aspirin, because I now have a headache...Bond and Lauren are obviously talented, though I seriously find Bond highly annoying...As for the direction and conception by Bogart, I hope to never see anything like this again. It was the most tortuous 90 minutes of theatre I have ever spent as a critic." Full Review

Theatre Reviews Limited

"There is nothing like watching theatre directed by SITI Company’s Anne Bogart. Her attention to detail is unparalleled and her signature staging that includes crisp and precise movement is transformative...A remarkable production...With smiles and precise gestures here, a few dances there, and with scintillating words everywhere, the remarkable talents of Bond and Lauren open the door to the possibility for members of the audience to rehearse their own conversations." Full Review

Theater In The Now

"Trying to ingest the words and make sense of them in the grand scheme of the piece is like finding a needle in a haystack. But if you open your mind to the nearly five senses production, there’s something to take away from 'Chess Match No. 5.' But no matter what, it went on a little too long...It’s easy to appreciate the individual moments but as a whole composition, 'Chess Match No. 5' is sadly unsatisfying...Fun for the first five minutes. Then it seems to drag on and on." Full Review

Front Row Center

“It gets dense and there is no real story, yet I was thoroughly entertained...This is a show that must be grasped with an open hand. If you try to make too much of it, hold on to any one moment too long, or ‘figure it all out,’ you won’t like it. If you can let it just flow over you and just notice how some of the mind bending makes you feel, you will definitely enjoy yourself...The sound design in this show is a complex masterpiece…By the end of the show, I had tears in my eyes.” Full Review

Off Off Online

"Probably best described as a 'performance piece,' since it lacks sufficient plot or conflict to qualify as a play...'Chess Match No. 5' engages the ear and eye and, from time to time, the intellect...But all this activity and all the on-stage artifacts don't make a case for the theatricality which Cage claimed for his aesthetic...It's all pleasant enough (and, thanks to the particular performers, thoroughly charming); but it's bloodless, unemotional, and forgettable." Full Review

This Week in New York Blog

“Through cleverly choreographed staging, the dialogue, so much of which is dry and didactic (as well as often being revelatory and very funny), never bogs things down; in fact, it all becomes rather playful…West’s superb sound design is like a character unto itself…If you’re looking to make sense of it all, you’re out of luck...If you submerse yourself in the concepts and ideas being espoused by the man and woman (as well as the outstanding sound and lighting), you’re likely to enjoy 'Chess.' Full Review


"A delight...'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...We find ourselves seeing as minutely as we ever have and listening every bit as carefully...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." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"While backgrounds of various interdisciplinary areas will provide entertainment, depth of field for individual audience members isn’t necessary to enjoy this delightful romp...Choreographer Barney O’Hanlon designed movement with a sense of play and gentle ease...The spare but resonant framework of 'Chess Match No. 5' allows us to enjoy the light show, ponder John Cage reflections on life and art and philosophy, and consider images as images and sounds as sounds." Full Review


“While both Bond and Lauren are visibly talented actors, they were definitely challenged by their material…Ms. Bogart knows what she’s doing when it comes to directing, despite the less-than-amusing subject matter…Bogart succeeds in giving Cage's work a voice in a proper stage presentation…On the whole, ‘Chess Match No. 5’ may suffer from its source material being directed to such a specialized target audience, whereby the overall impact may be lost on many." Full Review

New York Critic Blog

"The play isn’t a drama at all. It’s a Socratic dialogue, a lesson on the nature of music...Interesting as these ideas are, the dialogue alone wouldn’t absorb us in the play. What’s more, there’s no plot or specific characterization. What involves us is the astonishing moment-to-moment life of the two actors, Will Bond and Ellen Lauren...Ms. Bogart’s direction is impeccable...'Chess Match No. 5' is a terrific explication of musical and philosophical ideas, a marvelous tribute to Mr. Cage." Full Review

Woman Around Town

"The company has combined writing, direction, acting and the creativity of an entire ensemble to develop what can only be called a remarkable production...Bogart has directed it with careful attention to each moment, each nuance, and each in relationship to the whole. The performances of the production’s two actors are extraordinary. They have mastered incredibly challenging roles, totally embodying their characters and never allowing the attention of the audience to waver." Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Fun, Experimental, Innovative

See it if you like John Cage's ideas. Like abstract, conceptual, even absurdist theater. Want your thinking expanded or your assumptions challenged.

Don't see it if you want traditional theater. Aren't familiar with (or willing to learn about) Cage's ideas. Need a clear plot; this is ideas-driven.

Also It's all about expectations. If you go expecting (& wanting) a relatio... Read more Read less

Edgy, Quirky, Indulgent, Confusing, Overrated

See it if you want something different. I have to agree with the majority though

Don't see it if Our lowest rating.. My 60 and partner's 30 did it in.. It is for those who want to MAJORTHINK..

Ambitious, Quirky, Indulgent, Excruciating, Provocative

See it if artistic philosophy, creativity, provocative

Don't see it if no plot, drama

Boring, Dizzying, Confusing, Excruciating, Tiring

See it if You enjoy watching actors make toast, drink coffee, play chess, and talk nonsense for 90 minutes. Trouble falling asleep? Not at this show!

Don't see it if You want to see a play that's about something. This was about NOTHING! 90 minutes of my life gone forever!

Dated, Pretentious, boring

See it if you have patience for art-speak drivel that has pretensions to grandeur but is empty of meaning. Full of erudite references to nothing.

Don't see it if you expect insightful writing, character development, relevance and meaning. You are looking for an intermission to escape.

Ambitious, Edgy, Confusing, Slow

See it if You're a big fan of Cage and avant-garde theater and enjoy wondering what the he and she are up to. Some use of sound and light fun.

Don't see it if You can't handle 90 slow moving min with philosophical talk. I wanted to like it but the chess moves were like watching paint dry.

Banal, Disappointing, Excruciating, Cliched

See it if you are a fan of John Cage and his seemingly "esoteric" philosophical musing about art and life, maybe.

Don't see it if are looking for a show with any semblance of plot or want to have the ideas of John Caged doled out to you . . . tediously.

Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Resonant

See it if You enjoy a production that makes you think

Don't see it if You're looking for a simple story

Great acting, Intelligent, Riveting, Confusing, Slow

See it if You have some familiarity w/John Cage. You want a play about big, philosophical ideas. You like abstract & non-linear plays.

Don't see it if You're expecting a plot. You have no familiarity w/John Cage. You don't want philosophy and big ideas.

Also I didn't get everything in this play. I lost them a few times. However... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Ambitious, Clever, Quirky, Slow

See it if You are a great fun of John Cage; you want to see some experimental theater works which discuss time, sound and space.

Don't see it if You like plot-driven or traditional plays. Nothing really happened during the play and the dialogues can be incomprehensible.

Ambitious, Indulgent, Disappointing, Excruciating, Slow

See it if You are willing to spend 90 minutes watching two actors play chess while pretending to talk about philosophical and obscure concepts.

Don't see it if You don't like pretentious theater that tries ( and fails ) to be " avant-garde " and challenging. This is a boring and inert production.

Absorbing, Clever, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Quirky

See it if don't mind something avant-guard, philosophical and imaginatively presented

Don't see it if need a conventional plot and have short attention spans

Funny, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Confusing, Slow

See it if you like John Cage, interesting plays about avant garde music/musicians, and thought-provoking, quiet, good acting.

Don't see it if you don't like slow pieces, meta, and unconventional pieces that lack a traditional story. I liked it, but it was weird and not for everyone

Edgy, Great acting, Quirky, Confusing, Challenging

See it if You like Endgame, Sandbox, Exit The King, The Chairs. . . and outstanding actors

Don't see it if Like comprehensible stories with linear plots

Dizzying, Indulgent, Confusing, Disappointing, Excruciating

See it if You hate yourself. Seeing this was the worst experience I have ever had at the theatre

Don't see it if You value your eyesight. My wife and I could not watch this show because the lighting made our eyes hurt so much we had to close them.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Intelligent, Slow

See it if You are a fan of any of the following: Anne Bogart/Viewpoints, John Cage, two people shows.

Don't see it if You don't see the wonder in everyday.

Enchanting, Unique, intelligent

See it if u want 2 c John Cage's work & ideas come alive under Ann Bogart's genius/u want 2 c Siti's s Will Bond & Ellen Lauren exude brilliance.

Don't see it if if u don't want to think, need a story

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Resonant, Slow

See it if You like experimental/ devised theater, or John Cage. You like philosophy, and you like letting your mind wonder and consider things.

Don't see it if you don't like experimental theater, performance art, 2 person minimalist shows, or if you need plot, message, or concreteness.

Also This is definitely not for everyone but I'm a fan of experimental thea... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Must see, Experimental

See it if you are a fan of experimental theater, a fan of John Cage or of Anne Bogart/SITI Company. Enjoy spectacular sound design and unique lighting

Don't see it if you only like musicals, narrative plays, hate experimental theater or require plot and characters to enjoy a performance; You hate John Cage

Also Find Anne Bogarts essays and lectures on theater deeply inspiring, but... Read more Read less

Great acting, Intelligent, Indulgent, Slow, Dated

See it if you enjoy John Cage and don't care much about plot

Don't see it if you're looking for a linear (or any) story

Also It was uncanny how much that guy looked like John Cage! Good casting, ... Read more Read less

Great acting, Banal, Overwritten, Brainy

See it if you love Will Bond and Ellen Lauren so much you wouldn't miss anything they are in.

Don't see it if you have no patience for brainy plays with a lot of text and not much of action.

Also I really wanted to love a SITI Company show about John Cage but walked... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Intelligent, And super original.

See it if your are a little tired of kitchen dramas and plays with a linear story and you are open to a different type of show, super well done.

Don't see it if you like regular plays and are not open to enjoying something out of the box. People are going to hate it or love it, and that's good.

Great acting, Intelligent, Profound, Great staging, Abstract

See it if You enjoy experimental theater done by masters of their craft

Don't see it if You have a short attention span or get lost in big ideas

Indulgent, Confusing, Disappointing, Excruciating, Slow

See it if you enjoy pretentious "avant garde" performances which are thought provoking for some.

Don't see it if you are a fan of John Cage. Do not like pretentious plays that seem like they go on and on and on for ever. This play was a long 2 hours.

Also A fellow member of the audience told me that see thought the play was ... Read more Read less

Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Profound, Confusing, Weird, but interesting.

See it if You want to know more about a modern, provocative composer who was a brilliant philosopher.

Don't see it if You want constant action and just want to relax, without having to think.

Also I kind of liked it.

Cast & Creatives (10)