The chess king

If care isn’t given, the words “lovely” and “touching” could be over used and lose their meaning. But so much about “Paul Morphy,” which premiered last weekend, is just that, entire scenes, a turn of a phrase, transitions, and notably its lead actor, Eliot Johnston as Morphy.

It’s quickly clear area playwright Noah Sheola has great respect, and a fondness for his subject. When he’s done with you, you’ll feel the same. Morphy, an American, was a chess prodigy in the mid 1800s. He is considered one of the greatest players of all time, the first ever American to be given this distinction.

It’s a tragic story of a man who most likely found his talent trivial, perhaps simply unchallenging. After all, it’s reported by the age of 10 he was doing university level math. Believed to have a photographic memory, Morphy’s interest tended more toward the law, art and opera then chess. All that’s interesting, but Sheola’s telling of the story is more. His portrayal of the man is subtle yet deeply moving.

“Morphy,” is an incredibly clean premiering script, needing little more than a touch of the pen for refinement. Its dialogue is clear, at times approaches poetic — without the side of syrup. There’s also a lot of humor, both sweet and broad, giving balance to the angst, insecurity, and sadness. Sheola uses interesting conventions, offstage setups that foretell the next scene’s direction or melding one scene into another as the acts are physically changed. In the end what the audience comes away with is a very moving human story.

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