Saturday, August 21, 2010

FRINGE: Art of Attack

Of the many chess metaphors that overstuff Asa Merritt's Art of Attack, the big one comes down to whether or not the eight-by-eight board contains an infinite amount of space--as estranged brothers Kaz (Patrick Barrett) and Sergei (Jared Houseman) believe--or if it's just a small board, too small to throw one's life away on, which is the stance of Kaz's girlfriend Rose (Cordelia Istel). For the somewhat tedious first hour, it's both: there's an almost inexhaustible number of clever gambits, but they're all used for the exact same goal. Kaz, who was blinded in an accident, needs his brother to help him train for a tournament; Sergei, who realized he was as addicted to the game as their dead grandmaster of a father, hasn't touched a board in years--it's a stalemate. At last, however, the two set their arguments aside and actually play chess, adding color commentary and letting out all the nuances they (and director Joshua Kahan Brody) have been bottling up. It makes all the difference in the world: if the first half of the play is reading up on intellectual strategy, the second half is all about putting things into practice. It almost holds up, too--but Merritt overcommits to a second climax. The final scenes are not just confusing, with sexual tension added between Rose and Sergei and Rose going somewhat insane, but undercut the previous ones: it's the equivalent of continuing to play after losing one's king. On a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being "Stalemate" and 5 being "Checkmate," Art of Attack gets a 3.5.

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