Reikiavik by Juan Mayorga: The Game of Chess.

Reviewed by Capital Critics Circle

Categories: Professional Theatre

Yana Meerzon, who is covering the Festival for the Capital critics circle,  has seen Reikiavik at the  Europe Theatre Festival in Craiova, Romania. It was  performed in Spanish with English sub-titles.

Beckett’s Fin de partie/ Endgame is his masterpiece about the cruelty of time, the ticking clock that measures our minutes, days and years. Reikiavik by Juan Mayorga, a recipient of the 13th Europe Prize Theatrical Realities, XV Europe Theatre Festival, is about a very similar game: the game of chess in which the players are in an impossible combat with death. Dressed up as the story about the 1972 famous match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spasski, when the Soviet Union lost its 24 year chess crown to the USA, this play uses the metaphor of chess and the metaphor of playing (or of the game) to talk about love, death, and hope.

An empty stage: in the centre is a shabby looking garden table with a chess set prepared for the game; two benches and projected images of a warn out fence suggest a location somewhere in Europe, in a public garden. Most probably it is our time. The young boy (played by Elena Rayos) appears from the left and approaches the table; he is clearly interested in the game left unfinished. An older, skinny looking gentleman, Waterloo, (César Sarachu) with a shabby shopping cart appears also from the left and approaches the boy, proposing to finish the party in four moves. They play, the boy loses, the game begins. From the right, another gentleman, Bailén, (Daniel Albadalejo), a bit younger and more presentably dressed, appears. As we will soon learn, the two gentlemen are old friends or perhaps even lovers, they come to this place to play, they have a story to share, they have the past to think about, they have a secret to keep. But who are they? And why is this particular game is so important?

Nothing in the dramatic world of Juan Mayorga  has a singular meaning or a straight answer. A philosopher by his first trade, Mayorga does not tell his story in any simple manner: his plays are allegories and fairy tales, they take on a seemingly realistic form only to engage the audience in a labyrinth of questions and theatrical games.

In Reikiavik, the audience is invited to imagine a European city, which happens to be the place where Spasski lost his chess glory to Fischer. And thus, we’re presented with the first symbolic level of this story – Mayorga’s invitation to think about the history of  the Cold War through the metaphor of the game of chess.     

But there is more to this play than history, more plotting than the game of politics. There is a deep interconnection, more like a dependency or even an attraction,  between these players, the winner Fischer and the loser Spasski. It is a connection of mutual interest and power, so when one loses, the other also falls. When Fischer wins the  game, it is not only Spasski who falls into oblivion; in Mayorga’s interpretation of Fischer, he also falls into the abyss. Hence there is the second symbolic layer to this fin de partie.

What is  most attractive in Reikiavik’s fictional universe is its deep connection to the world of Beckett:  the legendary match that we see unfolding in front of our eyes is in fact another game that the two gentlemen perform as they play it quite often and in many variations, this time for the benefit of the young boy.  The performers Daniel Albaladejo, Elena Rayos, and César Sarachu play all the characters in their historical re-enactment: Fischer, Spasski, their supporting teams, Spasski’s wife Laryssa, Stalin who visits Spasski in his nightmares, Kissinger who makes a phone call to Fischer to give him a supporting hand. They use props, hand gestures, facial expressions, movements, vocal illustrations and other means of impersonation to portray these characters and  their actions, to make the play as attractive to the young boy as possible. In this, both the director and his team are ingeniously inventive. And despite the fact that the device can get a bit tiring by the end, it never becomes repetitive or dull, always resourceful with new tricks and ideas.

At the end, the younger Bailén as Spasski asks the older Waterloo as Fischer – why would they need to go on with this game and why would  it be so important to find someone, like this young boy, to watch them playing. The play suggests the answer: Waterloo is dying, he cannot continue playing the game, Bailén will have to keep going on his own, something that he cannot truly do, much the way that neither Fischer nor Spasski could continue playing chess after their historical encounter in Reykjavik. The boy will save the game: by taking Fischer’s place, he will give Spasski a chance to return to the past, to play the historic game one more time.

Unlike Beckett’s, this ending seems to be optimistic. Despite his obsession with repetitions, returns, and historical cul-de-sacs, this time Mayorga provides his audiences with hope. The boy appears in this game of shadows and reflections not by chance: he is a new player, a new Godot, who finally arrives and who takes his own place in the game of time. The boy, however, does not appear on his own.  He is Fischer’s gift to Spasski, the gift of life from the dying lover to his loved one. La fin de partie…           

Reikiavik written and directed by Juan Mayorga; presented by Teatro Valle-Inclán, Madrid, at the XV Europe Theatre Festival, Craiova, Romania; design Alejandro Andújar, lighting Juan Gómez-Cornejo, videography Malou Bergman, and sound Mariano García; featuring Daniel Albaladejo, Elena Rayos, and César Sarachu.


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