2 Pianos, 4 Hands | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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2 Pianos, 4 Hands


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2 Pianos, 4 Hands, Northlight Theatre. In Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt's 1996 play, two gifted young pianists develop a friendship/rivalry fraught with compulsion and peevish, wry humor--it's like an Odd Couple with two Felix Ungers. Scenes alternate between one boy and the other, depicting spats with parents who force them to practice and lessons with teachers--some doddering, some ruthless, all with very strong European accents--who encourage and demean them with equal fervor. When the boys come together they're competitive and aloof, but behind the one-upmanship is a clear connection between lonely kindred spirits.

Finding two actors who can capture these characters' entire range and whip off a piano repertoire that includes Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Rodgers and Hart, and Billy Joel can't be easy. Under Bruce K. Sevy's direction, Carl Danielsen and Jonathan Munro deliver the goods (dare I say "without missing a beat"?). They're supported by simple, elegant design choices that keep the focus on the actors and their matching Steinways. Scott Weldin's sets and Don Darnutzer's lights allow quick, subtle scene changes: a floral pattern reflected on a blue velvet wall introduces a new room, while shadows behind a window shade create the illusion of multiple characters onstage. Some audiences, particularly those who like Hollywood endings, will be disappointed with the story's less-than-triumphant (but terribly realistic) conclusion. Whether or not you like the destination, however, the journey is definitely rewarding.

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