Neptune’s “2 Pianos, 4 Hands” confusingly entertaining

What happens when two men grow up learning classical piano? This play.

Two gleaming grand pianos facing one another are surrounded by nearly all black.  A large empty photo frame hangs above each piano.  It’s simplicity to the point of excess.  As the house lights dim, two men dressed in tuxedos with shiny, patent leather shoes walk confidently across the stage.  It takes them a moment to settle in, and then all at once they begin to play classical music; scales, arpeggios and more.

It becomes clear within the first few minutes that this is more of a play in the traditional sense of the word than a concert.  The two men begin switching characters, each portraying music teacher and pupil: one acts as a small child learning to play chop sticks, the other hovers over him barking orders in a thick, old-lady voice. After 30 minutes of angry child and angrier parent arguing over practicing an instrument, the constant screaming and banter becomes tiring.  There’s something about watching a child hate practicing (loathing of themselves and their parents) that just isn’t funny, no matter how much you scream it in a funny little kid voice.

This show is presented as a comedy but it feels more like a drama or maybe a dark comedy at best.  Certain scenes are downright depressing as the performers take you through the incredibly exhausting arcs of growing up learning a classical instrument.  Hours of practicing and preparation which heads at the realization that ‘becoming a musician’ in the career sense is near impossible and, if they are lucky enough to make it, comes with a steep physical and emotional toll.

But maybe that angst and torment is exactly what they’re trying to convey.  At one time there are even flames projected on the back wall, meant to symbolize a living hell.

Because the roles from parent, teacher and child are ever rotating between the two actors, following any semblance of a plot becomes challenging.  It doesn’t really matter, though, since the show is so jam-packed with live licks and talent.

The sound is nice and loud, but unfortunately not as full or rich as you might expect.  Perhaps it’s the way they’ve been amplified, but some of the notes sound like they’re coming from a keyboard rather than a parlour grand. Both actors are without a doubt immensely talented in both their acting and piano crafts.  They keep the show entertaining (for nearly three hours).  The classical piano music including Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven and many other famous composers is lovely.  At times, both men play together in duets, which is magical.

Unless you have a heavy and extensive music background (we’re talking firsthand experience with Classical Conservatory examinations, Kiwanis Music Festival competitions and adjudications), you won’t understand more than half of the comedy in this production.  Deep and advanced music theory references were the butt of a third of the inside jokes. There are hints of other genres of music throughout the show, a bar of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” here, and a phrase of John Lennon’s “Imagine” there, but these are truly just a tease.

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Delia MacPherson