Theater Review: 2 PIANOS, 4 HANDS (North Coast Rep in Solano Beach)

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by Milo Shapiro on December 11, 2022

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego

2 PIANOS + 4 HANDS = 194 HAPPY ATTENDEES

Around twenty years ago, piano bars started featuring “dueling pianists,” who would go back and forth, taking turns playing pop songs and, occasionally, interacting. It was all the rave for a little while, so it wouldn’t be surprising if theatergoers thought that’s what this show (written by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt) might be. They’d be more wrong than right.

Starring Jefferson McDonald as Mr. Dykstra and Matthew McGloin as Mr. Greenblatt, 2P4H is a back-and-forth telling of the lives of the two men who, from a very young age, were classical music proteges. Snoresville, right? Not in the least! There is so much slapstick, caricature, and laugh-out-loud humor from their experience in youth competition that this show would be a riot even if the two didn’t actually play piano (and incredibly well at that).

The first ten minutes are wordless (can’t say silent, since the two pianos certainly get used) and are a brilliant demonstration of how small gestures, a glare, a look askance, and a sigh can be worth more than a soliloquy. Memories of Victor Borge and Red Skelton come to mind watching the two of them vamping for us. But just as we start to wonder if the whole show will be like that, they break into a series of verbal vignettes bouncing us through awkward youth competitions, bizarre piano teachers, coming-of-age rebellion (against both parents and classical music), auditions for top schools, and uncomfortable piano jobs (playing at seedy bars and teaching beginners). Every step of the way, we’re loving them each more, beyond enjoying their fantastic fingerwork.

Each man consistently plays his primary character at various ages while his counterpart plays all the people he encountered along the way. All of the scenes are two-person in nature, so neither actor ever has to be in two places at once. The characters are all played so broadly and uniquely that when they sometimes return in future scenes, we know exactly who they are. Mr. McDonald is slightly more the showman of the two when it comes to the overall farcical work, but Mr. McGloin wins the prize for the best character of the night: an effervescent woman who is clearly taking piano lessons from Ted solely for an hour of his attention each week.

It’s difficult to know how much of the direction came from the script or  how much was enhanced by NCR’s Tom Frey (I’m going with the latter), but the result is a masterful blend of comedy, storytelling, and outstanding piano talent not to be missed.

photos of Jefferson McDonald & Matthew McGloin by Aaron Rumley

North Coast Repertory Theatre
987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach
Wed at 7; Thurs & Fri at 7:30; Sat at 2 & 7:30; Sun at 2 & 7:30
ends on Jan 1, 2023
for tickets, call 858.481-1055 or visit North Coast Rep

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