“Two Pianos, Four Hands” runs through January 2 at Park Square Theatre in downtown St. Paul. Thinking about getting tickets? Then you’ll want to check out these reviews:
One of the clichés of the modern world is “Failure is not an option.” It’s repeated in bad action movies, on endless sports broadcasts, and by politicos the world over. It seems that either you “win” or get destroyed in modern-day gladiatorial combat.
Of course, failure is more than an option–it’s a reality for everyone, and often it can cause a sudden interruption of our dreams.
That theme runs beneath the surface of 2 Pianos 4 Hands, which sets out mainly to be a delightful romp through the young lives of the musically obsessed but turns into something deeper by play’s end. At Park Square Theatre, a pair of terrific players take on the roles of dueling piano-playing friends who offer up great playing set pieces and dig deep into the show’s considerable heart.
The play is not easily cast. It requires two mercurial pianist-actors who can not only handle Mozart, Schubert, Chopin and Billy Joel but can also conjure some 20 different characters: wounded teachers (with a host of accents), conflicted parents and other authority figures (though, curiously, no therapist). Both Peter Vitale (Richard) and Michael Pearce Donley (Ted) are extraordinary, convincingly impersonating a petrified schoolboy one moment, a doddering pedagogue the next. Very different musicians, they play well together without sounding like slumming virtuosos.
The play’s slapstick opening, suggestive of Victor Borge on a bad night, seems to me a miscalculation. But thereafter Frey and his actors find a plausible balance between farce and ache. “2 Pianos 4 Hands” doesn’t always take the time to plumb the depths latent in its materials; its pace can seem a bit manic. But the concluding performance of Bach’s D-minor keyboard concerto — the music that has framed the action, played, finally, for the sheer hell of it — feels unexpectedly redemptive. Music has triumphed over its worldly entanglements; stage fright has given way to joy.
Peter Vitale (Richard) and Michael Pearce Donley (Ted) convey plenty of humor in Park Square Theatre’s production as the boys make contorted, mocking faces and balk against their music teachers and parents. The two performers switch roles from music teacher to pupil and back again as adroitly as they trade pieces on the piano.
One jumps in where the other left off. They also simultaneously play dueling parts, facing each other from opposing pianos — and take on Bach, Mozart and Billy Joel with as much determination as they take on each other.
The two grand pianos that are the primary props almost become living entities as the pianists pour their emotions into the keys, caressing them seductively or pounding them with fury.
Director Tom Frey displays a sure hand with both the comic elements and the poignancy of the material, keeping things from getting too maudlin or depressing. This is not an earthshaking drama but a small show with familiar charm.
Have you seen “Two Pianos, Four Hands?” If so, give us your review in the comments section.