Stage Door Review

2 Pianos 4 Hands

Monday, June 13, 2022

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written & directed by Ted Dykstra & Richard Greenblatt

The Marquis Entertainment Inc. & Talking Fingers, Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto

June 12-July 17, 2022

“We’re the two best pianists in the neighbourhood”

2 Pianos 4 Hands (2P4H) is a Canadian classic. It is a unique show that’s funny, moving and enlightening. It feels just as brilliant and fresh now as when it premiered in 1996. David Mirvish is currently presenting the fifth production of the piece since its world premiere at the Tarragon Theatre. Since then writers/directors Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt have performed the show more than 900 times and have taken it on tour around Canada and around the world. Nearly 2 million people have seen the play on five continents worldwide making it one of the most successful Canadian plays ever. If you have seen the show before, you’ll want to see it again. If you haven’t seen it before, don’t miss it. Take advantage of this chance to see the piece performed by its creators.

2P4H is a semi-autobiographical play about two boys who strive to become concert pianists. It covers the period from when they first touch a key on the piano until age 17 when they are examined for admission to the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) in Toronto. Dykstra and Greenblatt tell their story entirely through playing the piano and acting out short scenes of their lives in music – from first lessons, to practicing, to advanced lessons, to entering competitions (often against each other) to their RCM examinations.

Not only do Dykstra and Greenblatt play themselves at varying ages but they also play each other’s series of teachers, parents, examiners and others while deftly keeping all these characters distinct. To perform the play requires a minimum Grade 10 RCM Piano Certificate, the ability to act and a keen sense of humour. These requirements have made the play difficult to cast since it is so closely tailored to the talents of Dykstra and Greenblatt. That’s why, if you have the chance to see Dykstra and Greenblatt, you should take it.

We go into the show already knowing that Dykstra and Greenblatt are not world-famous concert pianists since if they were that is how we would know them. Instead, those who keep up with theatre in Canada will know that Greenblatt has been working as an actor, director, writer, musician and teacher and Dykstra is a founding member of Soulpepper Theatre and an actor, writer, composer and director who currently runs the multi-award-winning Coal Mine Theatre with Diana Bentley.

Act 1 is primarily about how Dykstra and Greenblatt become increasingly committed to playing the piano. Fun becomes work. Nagging parents enforce hours of practice. Teachers find that both boys are talented but seem only to criticize the minutiae of their playing. Nevertheless the boys move forward and the culmination of their work at age 10 is the hilarious failure of their performance of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” at a Kiwanis music competition.

Act 2 focusses on the gruelling tests the two must pass to be accepted for professional training, but the nub of the act is when each is bluntly told that he is not good enough to be a concert musician. In this moment each feels that the hopes they nurtured for almost all of their lives have been utterly dashed. How the two men cope with this circumstance is the central point of the evening. We know that both turned toward the theatre and have thriven there. Yet, the two recreate their darkest moment and the parody of a life immediately after giving up.

Yet, the play is still a comedy. When the two play their final piece, eight minutes of J.S. Bach’s Concerto in D minor, the music itself, more than anything the two men say, brings about a form of reconciliation. That Dykstra, aged 61, and Greenblatt, aged 69, can still play such a work with such beauty and grace is a testament to all the hard work they both did in their youth. Being able to play such a work is a gratification in itself. Feeling the admiration and pleasure that wells up in the audience as they play must be a further blessing. A play that started out as a comic satire on the rigour of piano lessons and the peculiarity of pianos teachers ends as a celebration of music, music-making and the sacrifices of all those who have given their lives to music.

For Toronto theatre-lovers it is a joy to see Dykstra and Greenblatt together on stage again after they have spent so many years as directors. Their rapport, the precision of their comic timing, the irony in their tone when speaking with those they dislike, their ability to convey complex moods and reactions through facial expressions all combine to make the show a delight. Their playing of pieces from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt and Albéniz to Billy Joel and a mélange of other pop musicians is a pleasure in itself.

The show covers a wide range in mood from farce and satire to poignancy and melancholy to a resolve to move forward. It’s no wonder the show has been a hit for so long and for audiences around the world. Now that Dykstra and Greenblatt are 26 years older than when the show premiered, the show this time seems to emphasize wisdom gained through experience. Though 2P4H is about piano playing, the show has universal appeal to anyone who has striven for excellence in any discipline.

Christopher Hoile

Photos: Richard Greenblatt and Ted Dykstra, © 2022 Kristina Ruddick; Richard Greenblatt as a teacher and Ted Dykstra as a pupil, © 2022 Cylla von Tiedemann.

For tickets visit www.mirvish.com.