Created and Performed by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt
Directed by Gloria Muzio
Promenade Theatre 2162 Broadway at 76th Street / (212) 580-1313

Reviewed by David Spencer

Trust me on this: pay no attention to any review that seeks to diminish the accomplishment of "Two Pianos, Four Hands", or that doesn't urge you to see what is not only one of the highlights of the season, but a work wholly unto itself as a transcendent theatrical experience. Those who say it's too specialized, or that it's characters are drawn in too slender a manner–and there are a prominent few critics who have said just that–and who, you'd think, would know better–are missing the point, seriously lacking "get-it-ness" and probably in need of a soul transplant.

Though the authorship credit reads "created and performed by" Ted Dykstra & Richard Greenblatt, probably to avoid the potential pretension of calling this clear dual autobiography a play, "Two Pianos, Four Hands" is every bit a play, and a brilliantly crafted one, within its parameters.

The premise is simple. The author/performers enact scenes–intimate snapshots really–from their respective lives. They do this without narration, without show bizzy segue, artfully going from one to the next, creating a rich tapestry out of odds and ends. The scenes have to do with their lives as pianists.

They start with our heroes as children, who come to the piano–and the notion of practicing–reluctantly...but who slowly become attached to the instrument, and in time obsessed with it, aspiring to make their livings as concert pianists. For the most part, when not playing themselves, each takes turns playing some authority figure in the other's life: a parent, a teacher, an admissions panelist, etc. For the small remaining part, they play scenes of Dykstra and Greenblatt together as childhood piano partners, and later college age rivals. The play never touches upon any aspect of their lives outside the piano; ironically, this does not make the characters sketchy–for one gets the distinct impression that it is the piano that makes them whole; that their life beyond the piano simply doesn't have the same depth or meaning. With the always-desired universality of pointed specifics, the piano-life as depicted here might well be a metaphor for any artistic quest for excellence, for the yearning of any aspirant. And the portrait it paints of that world, that dedication, that ambiance, that pressure, is stunningly accurate.

Now of course, outside of this show (which has made them very popular in Canada) Dykstra and Greenblatt are not renowned pianists; they never entered the loop of the concert hall greats. They both, in fact, made their careers, later in life, as actors, which accounts for the utterly convincing and winning versatility–to say nothing of the penny-bright technique–with which they play the many characters they assay. (They do so under the direction of Gloria Muzio, by the way, who seems especially suited to the task and–no pun intended–very much in tune with her authors.)

How and why they failed to achieve their dream...well, that's part of the show too. And part of the metaphor.

Which is not to say they aren't terrific, engaging and witty pianists. That's the icing on the cake. Come to think of it, it may even be the cake. No matter: whatever the icing, whatever the cake, "Two Pianos, Four Hands" serves it up with taste, panache and keenly observed detail.

And no matter what anyone tells you, you'll leave it full, happy and very likely eager for seconds...

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