Sari Caine’s play The Chess Lesson got positive notices last year, and her highly anticipated new work, Mr. Landing Takes a Fall, which starts at the Flea Theater on September 12, has been a long time in the making. “I wasn’t even intending to write a play,” Caine says, “but I read Harold Pinter’s The Room, and I was enthralled, and terrified, and then…the end came, and I was absolutely livid, actually. How could he do that? I kept thinking, it makes no sense. I really thought it was going to a certain place, and not only did it never get there, it went somewhere else that was totally unforeseeable.” Caine spent the next seven years wrestling with her response to this Pinter play, but people kept telling her that Mr. Landing Takes a Fall read like a deconstruction of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? When she read that play again, she could see what they were saying.
Caine, who is an actress, playwright, and chess teacher, grew up in Manhattan. “I went to Saint Ann’s School when it was still a little renegade, a delightfully crazy place for smart, creative, dysfunctional hippies,” she says. She began acting as a kid. “I’ve acted in every medium, but I really love the theater,” she says. “When things are live, there’s a collective experience, a charge in the air, that you can’t get anywhere else.” Her passion for chess remains constant. “I teach every day at Gillen Brewer, which is a wonderful school for autistic children I just started working at,” she says. “I tell the kids that chess is like a conversation, and to suddenly make a random move that doesn’t reply to your opponent is like someone asking you how the weather is today and you saying, ‘spaghetti.’ Wonderful chess games are really like little plays in that you should not have a problem memorizing them, because they make sense.”
When asked about the relation of Albee’s work to her new play, Caine says, “Albee’s plays are all about trying to figure out how to live in the moment, with all that that encompasses. Albee also looks at roles, and role playing, which is something very important to me, especially as a woman and an actress.” Caine likes to mix verbal comedy with more physical work, which is part of where her title comes from. “I’m a big klutz,” she says. “I’ve broken my nose about four times, three of which were with the chess team growing up, and there is always physical comedy in my plays. You’ve seen people fall, it’s pretty funny, right? Their arms waving around, and the expressions that they make? Especially with grown men. You lose control when you fall, it’s a moment totally different from the rest of life when you are just going on your animal instincts. You can’t be in your head, you are forced into action, which is key to living in the moment.”