"2 Pianos 4 Hands"is a charming, unassuming little show about the dream of becoming a classical pianist. Mark Anders, as Ted, and Carl J. Danielson, as Richard, are both talented (not brilliant) musicians, and skilled actors. They are exactly right, because the show is not about achieving great summits of artistic success, but about the discipline, the personal cost, and the subtle reward of the pursuit. They play the young musicians, of course, as well as all the other personalities in their musical lives. That includes men and women, teachers, parents and friends. Behind it all is the constant presence of the music itself. At times painful, often delightful, occasionally beautiful, it is the unspoken motivation behind all the effort, all the self-denial, all the ambition and passion and disappointment. By the end of the play we fully understand that the years these men have given to music are repaid by the simple fact that their toil has been time spent in the grace of music.
Scott Weldin has designed a lovely, if rather inert, set, with a great arch lined with blue velvet, pedestal mounted busts of Bach and Beethoven, and two grand pianos. When the two men first enter, in white tie and tails, the flourish of brushing back the tails to be seated is a small gesture of the grandeur of their aspirations, of the music itself, and of their own dignity, which blends the two. That soon gives way to the excruciating notes of those first tortured scales, and the two men as very young boys, enduring their first lessons. Ted is the more challenged, initially outsmarted by a 4/4 beat. Richard faces the problem of learning to naturally maintain the unnatural positions required of fingers and wrists.
Then, of course, there are the teachers, tutors and tyrants. They come at different times in the boy's lives, with a variety of accents and expectations. Some are cruel, some just inept, some too judgmental, but each with a particular view of what is required for the concert stage. In keeping with the essentially comic nature of the evening, many of these characters are quite broad. That's also true of the actor's characterizations of childhood, especially Mr. Anders. A few of the bits get a bit too broad, but for the most part, it is all light entertainment with just enough of a serious foundation.
Two exceptions to the comic overstatement are the men who ultimately convince the players that their careers have reached a pinnacle. A ruthless conservatory professor callously tells Ted that he simply hasn't the talent nor the motivation to get anywhere, and a cynical, world-weary teacher at a professional jazz school informs Richard that his years of training in classical music are meaningless in terms of jazz. These scenes have a finality that simply slams the door on each of their musical futures, and demands some answer to the question of what all of this has been for. The answer is, of course, to play more music.
Bruce K. Sevy directs the show quite well, keeping the pace brisk and nicely varied. What I especially appreciated in Richard Greenblatt and Ted Dykstra's script, and what Mr. Sevy keeps clear, is that while this play is about a very specific area of ambition, it applies to many others. Much of the humor is aimed at an audience of musicians (the audition at the jazz school is very sly in the way it presents skill without insight, all done entirely on the keyboard), yet the play never excludes non-musicians. "2 Pianos, 4 Hands" traces a personal artistic trajectory that aims for greatness, and falls markedly short, but it is also about anyone who has ever had a dream greater than their ability, ever given their all and found it not quite sufficient, ever loved more than they achieved. It may just be a minor entertainment, but it's skillful, sincere and heartfelt. Like the notes coming from those striving pianos, it may not be genius, but it is certainly music.
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