‘2 Pianos’ is funny, sweet and simple 

click to enlarge Darren Dunstan, left, and Christopher Tocco portray prodigies aiming for greatness in TheatreWorks' production of “2 Pianos 4 Hands.” - COURTESY KEVIN BERNE
  • COURTESY KEVIN BERNE
  • Darren Dunstan, left, and Christopher Tocco portray prodigies aiming for greatness in TheatreWorks' production of “2 Pianos 4 Hands.”
If you’ve taken the emotional roller-coaster ride offered by the current Oscar-nominated film “Whiplash.” about an obsessively ambitious music conservatory student and his sadistic and demanding teacher/mentor, then Richard Greenblatt and Ted Dykstra’s 1996 two-hander, “2 Pianos 4 Hands,” now at TheatreWorks, might provide some solace, or relief.

On the other hand, the comical and poignant two-act play – with plenty of slapstick antics in director Tom Frey’s crisply paced rendition – might seem like “Whiplash”-lite. The show follows a pair of musically talented Canadian kids (Richard and Ted – named for, and originally performed by, the writers) from the age of about 10 on through adulthood.

It’s easy to empathize with these aspiring yet ambivalent young pianists as they struggle through parent-mandated piano lessons taught by various eccentric teachers, endless practice to the beat of a metronome, children’s competitions (where they perform an amusingly discombobulated duet) and rigorous and soul-sucking applications to music conservatories.

The story of their bumpy path toward self-identity, with its bittersweet ending, is appealing but slight, and the dialogue is mostly barebones.

But this is a play that’s about the music, and about the way that artistic endeavor, with all its frustrations and triumphs and disappointments, can enrich the lives of ordinary people. And the performances by actor-pianists Darren Dunstan and Christopher Tocco are impressive.

The music ranges from the classics (Bach, Mozart, Grieg, Chopin, Beethoven, Liszt, Schubert, Schumann) to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” a jazzy “My Funny Valentine,” a touch of ragtime, a little 1950s rock ’n’ roll and even those old piano-lesson standbys, “Heart and Soul” and a pinch of “Chopsticks,” and more.

The tunes are interspersed in generous dollops throughout the action, as Dunstan and Tocco pound away at the keys and swiftly and seamlessly morph from student to teacher and back again, taking on a variety of accents and attitudes to hilarious effect — a long-suffering nun, an angry dad, an ebullient Italian with a bad back, a Russian, a Frenchman and others. Along the way, the two best friends yell at, compete with and support each other, dream of success, and grow incrementally as musicians and as people.

Staged with nothing more than two pianos and two large screens (scenic and lighting designer is Steve Lucas) that occasionally project images — windows, silhouettes of scolding parents — “2 Pianos” is a simple pleasure.

REVIEW

2 Pianos 4 Hands

Presented by TheatreWorks

Where: Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View

When: 7:30 p.m. most Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and/or 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and/or 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Feb. 15

Tickets: $19 to $74

Contact: (650) 463-1960, www.theatreworks.org

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Bio:
Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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