A comical, musical, dramatic duet
By Pat Launer
So, did you realize your youthful dreams and fantasies? Did your life fulfill all your expectations? It didn’t for Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, Canadian piano prodigies who thought they’d have world-class professional music careers. But things didn’t work out as planned. They were forced to realize that they were talented, but not talented enough. Determined to turn disillusionment into accomplishment, they transformed their stories into theatrical gold, creating “Two Pianos Four Hands,” a semi-autobiographical work of comedy, music and drama.
What began as a 20-minute romp at a Toronto arts fair morphed into a hugely successful theater piece that has had 5000+ performances at more 150 different theatres across the globe, playing to more than two million people worldwide . After years of performing the piece, the creators were ready to allow others to take on their roles and their lives.
Enter Bruce Sevy, associate artistic director and director of New Play Development at the Denver Center Theatre Company. He directed his first presentation of the play in Arizona in 2001, and has helmed nearly two dozen productions since. Now he brings the show to North Coast Repertory Theatre.
It wasn’t easy to find actors to fill the roles, because they also have to be consummate musicians. During the course of the evening, the two central characters move backward in time, from a mortifying failure during a professional concert to the early days of their piano lessons. With plenty of patter and piano-playing — from Bach to Billy Joel, Mozart to Hoagy Carmichael, Rodgers and Hart to Jerry Lee Lewis — they re-enact seminal scenes from their lives, each becoming the other’s prodding parents, demanding teachers and fiercely competitive peers.
Sevy himself was raised on classical piano, and for years made his living as a musician. That put him in a perfect position to understand the play in all its musical and dramatic complexity. He was fortunate to connect with Mark Anders, whom he’d known in Seattle, and Carl Danielsen, who auditioned for him in New York. They’ve been working together on the piece ever since.
“From my first read of the play,” Sevy recalls, “I said, ‘I get this. But will it communicate to people who don’t have a classical piano background?’ The answer is Yes. The emotions are universal, whether the pursuit is music or sports or anything else that requires a lot of time, energy and sacrifice. And after all that time is logged in, the question becomes: Is this a career or a hobby? And how do your parents feel about it? It resonates for lots of people.”
Even if you decide to make a profession of your youthful pursuit, “not everyone gets to be the absolute best in any given field,” says Sevy. “What do you do with that? How do you evaluate your life, in terms of energy, ambition, money, time?
“The play is a comedy with great music, but there’s some meat to it. It makes for a very complete evening, and definitely gets people thinking and talking about the implications for their own lives.”
“Two Pianos Four Hands” runs January 15-February 6 at North Coast Repertory Theatre. Previews are January 12-14.
Performances are: Previews at 8pm, and select Saturday matinees at 2pm. Regular show times are Wednesdays at 7:00pm, Thursday-Saturday at 8pm with 2pm matinees on Sundays and select Saturdays matinees; and Sundays at 7pm.
Tickets ($30-47) are available at 858-481-1055; northcoastrep.org