2 Pianos, 4 Hands, lots of characters

A trombonist friend told us that anyone who’d ever taken music lessons should try to see 2 Pianos 4 Hands in its run at the Citadel.  I saw it in the first preview Saturday night, and I agree.  Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt wrote the play and perform in it.  This is their last tour with the show.

The stage is empty except for two shiny Yamaha grand pianos, two coatracks, and two large picture frames in which are projected occasional stylized images indicating changes of scene.

The show starts with the two pianists entering in tailcoats, saluting the audience, then sitting down to play a duet.  Then follows a hilarious set of disagreements and negotiations about who gets which piano, who gets which piano bench, and when they start, all conducted completely in silence.

The tailcoats then come off as the performance moves forward in a series of vignettes about the characters growing up playing the piano.  Each actor played the other’s parents and piano teachers, and in a particularly funny scene they addressed the audience as the session chair and adjudicator for a Kiwanis Music Festival session.  The two boys also interacted as duet partners and as competitors in some scenes.  I particularly enjoyed recognising many of the specifics they referred to – Royal Conservatory exams, Kiwanis festival – and even recognised at least two of the lesson books they were using as props.  Illustrations of general music-lesson memories about parents prodding the child to practice and about teachers’ contradictory advice were also amusing.

I admired the way they showed similarities in the two characters’ alternating scenes, but still made them distinctive people.  The characters and the performers had the same names, so one might imagine strong threads of autobiography.  When Richard Greenblatt’s character was being taught by a nun, who used “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” as a mnemonic for three notes, he corrected her under his breath with a three-word Hebrew phrase.  When the two boys were teenagers, each of them had a teacher who motivated him by telling him that girls would be attracted to a certain style of playing arpeggios (two opposite styles).

The vignettes continue as the two young men explore various ways of using their musicianship, and ends with them putting the tailcoats back on and finishing the duet they started the show with.

At intermission of the performance I saw, theatregoers all around us were talking about their own memories of musical childhoods, and we were too.  Friends who hadn’t taken music lessons as children said that they’d enjoyed the performance but knew they’d missed some of the inside jokes.  2 Pianos 4 Hands plays at the Citadel until November 17th.

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