By Emily Senger
But Mom, I don’t want to practice!”
The piano soundtrack to youth has punctuated the lives of almost every middle-class kid, who has been subjected to some form of a love/hate relationship with the classical instrument.
This same soundtrack has been captured in an audience-pleasing blend of emotion, humour and, of course, the classical music of two dueling grand pianos in Alberta Theater Projects’ latest play, 2 Pianos, 4 Hands, directed by Bob White.
The play follows two young and talented pianists, Ted (Jonathan Monro) and Richard (Kevin McGugan), on a humourous and emotional journey through their piano careers. From the first headache inducing lessons, to nerve-racking recitals, to disappointing music school auditions 2 Pianos, 4 Hands showcases Ted and Richard’s struggles as they strive to balance the demands of parents and music teachers with their passions for music.
Playwrights Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt use their own experiences, and lend their names, to capture the essence of classical piano training in a script punctuated with musical humor. Who can’t remember the impossible “curl your fingers, drop your wrists” instruction, the agony of learning time signatures, or the 50 plus children playing the identical piece at a local music festival? Such nostalgic piano instruction moments will be appreciated by any former child musicians in the audience, not to mention their parents.
The script is brought to life by Monro and McGugan who give crowd-pleasing performances playing off of, and with each other beautifully. While Ted and Richard are the title characters in the play, both actors make legato-smooth transitions into and out of roles of various music teachers, parents, adjudicators and examiners in this never dull play.
The first act, where Ted and Richard are young boys mastering the art of piano, relies heavily on the use of gag after gag of piano related humour. While this could be tiresome to cynics seeking something deeper, the majority of audience members will find the blend of music from the stage’s two dueling grand pianos and quick humor pleasing, if not overly-challenging.
Act two delves more deeply into the emotional side of Ted and Richard’s piano careers as both boys have their dreams of a musical career shattered. While the second act is decidedly darker than the first, it merely scrapes the surface of emotion when a life dedicated solely to aspirations of piano-greatness is ruined within the course of a single audition.
While the content of 2 Pianos, 4 Hands plays it safe, the format of part musical, part classical piano concert, part drama and part comedy is unconventional. All audience members, regardless of musical background, are sure to find something about this play to make them walk away with a smile, whether a new appreciation for Bach, or a renewed, bittersweet nostalgia for the piano lesson soundtrack of youth.