The Chemainus Theatre Festival’s latest production, 2 Pianos, 4 Hands, is a surprising piece of theatre.
When you look at the poster and see the stars, Max Roll, and Bruce Kulak, clowning around on a piano, you might think this is slapstick or stand-up comedy, but it’s actually a thoughtful look at two young men as they pursue their dreams.
Director Richard Greenblatt says in his program notes, “One of the most gratifying aspects of performing this show is that when audience members talk to us after the performance, they mostly talk about themselves, and not about us…At our first workshop presentation, which went far better than we could have dreamed, a friend of ours said to us, ‘You know, the show’s not about the piano at all. It’s about tennis!’ …Whether their dreams were about sports, music, another art form, or being prime minister, [audiences] all seem to project themselves into this story.”
It’s true. We did the same, talking after the show. The theme is universal.
In this case, the two actors/musicians are individually trying to become professional classical pianists.
We follow them from early childhood days when they were forced, protesting vociferously, to practise hours every week while their friends were outside playing, through the teen years when they started to develop their talent, and finally, to the disillusioning days of knocking on doors looking for work, before realizing that they’re just the best piano players in their neighbourhood. It’s a tender, touching tale but it’s also full of humour.
Not surprisingly for anyone who knows about music lessons, the first brutal hurdle to overcome is the initial appearance at the music festival. Kulak and Roll are hilarious in this one. You’ll be laughing along with the poor festival volunteer who has to hear hundreds of performances of the same piece played by duos of youngsters for what seems like all eternity.
We follow the students through their competitive teen years to the time when, school finished, they decide to embark on further training to enhance their chances of a career. Both hit the wall, discovering that the gurus in studios and conservatories are all the same: snobby, and dismissive.
Hilarious skits ensue, featuring the pair trying to earn a living in music, either by playing in piano bars, or teaching at home.
Woven throughout the show are some fine performances of works by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Billy Joel, Hoagy Carmichael, John Lennon, Franz Liszt, Vangelis, and more.
The simple set and unchanging costumes pull the audience right into the show as theatregoers see themselves and their dreams and realize that you win some, and you lose some, and some are rained out, but you dress for every game just because you love it.