In every love affair there are two undeniable truths.
One is that a love affair is consuming, passionate and personal.
The second is that the affair will end – either well or badly.
A love affair, with all the warts and joys is on full and robust display in downtown Milwaukee with the opening of “2 Pianos 4 Hsands” in the Stackner Cabaret at The Rep.
Like every love affair, this one is full of comic moments, bitter conflicts, challenges and victories and endings that seem almost predestined.
The story is about two piano players, Ted (Joe Kinosian) and Richard (Ben Moss) and their obsessive commitment to the soaring compositions of bach, Beethoven and Mozart, all performed on the 88 keys of the nearest piano.
Like any tale, this one begins with two young Canadian boys enrolled in piano lessons, taught by two characters who specialize in the early days of parental inspired lessons for children.
Anyone who has ever taken any instrument lessons will easily recognize the pathway for each boy. Shouts from parents to keep practicing. Forcing them to keep at it even while wanting to go outside with friends to play hockey.
Threats to ban television for a night if practice doesn’t continue for the half hour. Confusion by the boys as to just what they are supposed to be practicing. The halting and patient instruction from all those early instructors.
Mr. Kinosian and Mr. Moss play all the characters, ranging from nuns to romantic Italian impressarrios and rigid adjudicators of classical music.
The boys meet at 10 years old playing in a KIwanis Club competition as pairs, playing the Mozart Sonata for One Piano, Four Hands in D major. After six months of practice Ted chokes and is first unable to play and once he finds the music, unable to get in order to read. It’s a hilarious scene and the audience roared.
The humor of the first act is leavened by a long bitter scene between Richard and his father, a pianist himself who never achieved the kind of notoriety he thought he deserved. The father is a strict taskmaster who clamps down forcefully on Richard’s reluctance to live out the dreams of his father.
Before long, as they approach their teenage years, they begin their contact with serious conservatories of music where the boys have their initial experience with demanding teachers who have seemingly impossible standards.
The first act is a setup for the serious pursuit of a career and the fulfillment of the extraordinary promise each boy has shown. They are focused on careers as artists, a perilous and uncertain future under the best of circumstances.
And, as expected, the brass ring remains a mirage in the desert for both boys. They let everyone know with a rag-tag piano mashup of “Bennie and the Jets,” “Imagine,” “The Entertainer,” “Chariots of Fire” and “Great Balls of Fire.” It is with the popular songs that we finally get a glimpse of the two boys actually having fun at the piano.
At the end, both boys give up their dream and accept the fact that they are the “two best piano players in the neighborhood.”
Ths play is almost 25 years old and was written by Ruchard Greenblatt and Ted Dykstra. It’s a true story and it’s been wildly successful with productions at over 200 theater companies worldwide.
The Rep production, under the free-wheeling direction of Laura Braza, is perfect for the Stackner. Mr. Kinosian and Mr. Moss are exceedingly talented piano players and actors. They move from character to character and mood to mood with ease, never over playing roles that could easily be caricatures.
When it’s funny it’s very funny. When it’s tough, it’s very tough. And when it’s sad, the sorrow drips.
One of the most difficult tasks in theater is playing a musician and making that character believable. Mr. Kinosian and Mr. Moss bring the kind of focus that every great musician needs. They don’t just play notes, they understand the dynamics of these compositions and share their gifts with the audience.
This production is careful to capture the kind of catastrophe that can develop when dreams outstrip the realities of life.
Just like every love affair we’ve ever known.
Production Credits:? Director, Laura Braza; Music Direction, Joe Kinosian; Scenic Designer, Michelle LIly; Costume Designer, Nicholas Hartman; Lighting Designer, Jared Gooding; Sound Designer, Erin Page; Casting Director, Frank Honts; Stage Manager, David Hartig; Production Photographer, Michael Brosilow.