In part one of my three-part series on the musical Chess, I focused on Anatoly Sergievsky and the problems that he faced when making a decision between the game he loves and the woman he loves, Budapest-born Brit Florence Vassy.
Florence is an interesting character. Not only does she love the game of chess, but her hatred toward the Soviet Union is far more complex than anything I have ever seen in a musical before.
In one of the first numbers, the audience learns that Florence’s father is the one who taught her chess. When he was captured in Budapest during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Florence was shuffled to the United Kingdom, becoming a British citizen. Eventually, she became both the second and paramour to American chess champion Freddie Trumper.
It turns out that Florence did fall in love with Anatoly. Anatoly’s love for Florence led the Russian, now a defector, to throw his final match and go back to Russia in exchange for the return of Florence’s father. Except it turns out both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were just playing a back-channel game, and Florence’s father was probably killed during the Budapest uprising.
So let’s review, shall we? Florence lost her father to her original government in the U.S.S.R. Her hate for the Soviet machine drives her to use chess as a way to hurt them. Then, she falls in love with a Russian, only to have the West lie to her so they can take her love away.
That just sucks.
When someone loses a close loved one, as Florence does after she loses her father, they generally go through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Florence alludes, after Freddie brings up Budapest, that she still harbors angry feelings. In “Nobody’s Side,” she expresses how mentally confusing her growing infatuation with Anatoly combined with her disdain for Freddie is.
When Anatoly came into her life, she was able to get past her anger, albeit through the love of another. Now that he has to go back to Russia, she has to go back through the five stages again.
Unfortunately, Chess ends on this sad note. There is no look into Florence’s future. Does she go back to Freddie? Probably not, for reasons I’ll discuss next week (hint: he’s narcissistic). Does she accept the loss of both her father and Anatoly? Not for a while, I think. When you get hit in the mouth that much in life, it’s hard to recover.
Florence has a heavy load to bear. I hope she is able to keep her head and get back to chess and life, but depending on how bad the situation hits her, life may have captured the queen.
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