Ted Dykstra & Richard Greenblatt
Entering the theatre and seeing the two, ‘stretch’ Steinways fill the wide Mountain View stage, I wondered if I were the last person in the Bay Area finally to see this much-produced Canadian play since it had already appeared on several other, Bay Area stages (e.g., ACT, San Jose Rep, Center Rep) as well as over 150 cities on 5 continents since its debut in 1996. As the two virtuosos (played ably by Darren Dunstan and Christopher Tocco) made their way in a funny, circuitous journey to play their first duet, I realized that my and TheatreWork’s wait had been well-worth it.
Is this a concert? Is this a comedy? They answer to both is a resounding ‘yes.’ The play list of classics (and later on, American songbook favorites) is extensive and well half of the 2+-hour production is a symphony of amazing piano music, especially astounding since these are both stage actors who also just happen to be very accomplished musicians. But the real strength of this production is in the telling of two stories of young boys and then teenagers as they slug through and then dive with determined devotion through years of practice and competition. Both actors become very believable 7- through 17-year-olds. Their resistances, sneaky behaviors and yelled “I AM practicing, Dad” are all too believable and familiar to every parent in the audience who has prodded reluctant kids to “Go practice” and to “Not waste my hard-earned money.”
The actors rarely, however, stay in their young ages for long. Time and again they quickly switch back and forth to become dads, music teachers (of both sexes and several nationalities), a drunk bar patron, and other delicious characters. These reversals happen as one piano-playing ‘child’ halts a sonata to become an adult over-seeing the practice of the other now-‘child,’ with the music often hardly halting between the two players and two pianos. Often, it feels as if we are watching a tennis match as our audience heads bounce from one side to the other to catch all the action at the two piano benches.
Where this play falls short, in my opinion, is in the climax and the dénouement. The climax is perhaps more realistic of what occurs in life than we as the adoring audience at first want to see; and the result of the climax for each of our protagonists is a bit depressing in where they land in their lives. We are left with a rather abrupt shock and then shown a scene where beer and Bach are supposed to make it all OK. Frankly, I wanted a bit more after all this investment in the lives of these two, talented guys than a quite long piano duet at the end.
But I do like the message I received from the play. As a singer who realized early on that six years of voice lessons were not going to land me in Carnegie Hall, I learned to enjoy singing for singing’s sake and am today in an outstanding chorus of 300 -- content never to seek a solo spot, yet still practicing 8 or more hours a week. This play reassures me that life-long pursuit of a passion (be it piano, singing, tennis, Scrabble, or whatever) is in itself the reward – not necessarily just the acclaim of parents, teachers, or audience.
Rating: 4 E's