2 Pianos 4 Hands is, in a word, brilliant!
Portland Stage Company concludes their 2011-12 season with a hilarious, heartwarming production about two pianists and their (mis)adventures en route to becoming musical masters of the 88 piano keys.
Written by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, 2 Pianos 4 Hands is a laugh-out-loud concert starring the multi-talented and brilliant musicianship of Tom Frey (Ted) and Jeffrey Rockwell (Richard) who share musical aspirations, challenges, rejection and jubilation that holds your attention like super glue.
To even consider producing this play, one must have 2 actors (or actresses) who can act, move, do improvisation and physical comedy and have a high level of musicianship. Frey and Rockwell are the perfect piano duo who give Broadway-like performances, their comedy perfectly timed like a metronome. Each actor excels emotionally, physically and musically as they portray a colorful cast of characters from their past. Their unspoken moments are hilarious one moment, heartwarming or dramatic the next. Frey and Rockwell, like the great comedy teams before them, compliment each other in everything they do- sharing the moments and supporting each other throughout.
Highlights include a performance of Mozart's Sonata For One Piano, Four Hands in D Major, 1st Movement; the dueling pianos in act two and 2 scenes of rejection and realization that ripped at the heart.
Frey and Rockwell's characters conclude that perhaps they are not two of the best piano players in the world or even the country, but they are at least two of the best in the neighborhood and bring the audience to their feet with Bach's Ceoncerto in D Minor, 1st Movement.
The script is cleverly crafted by Dykstra and Greenblatt and beautifully directed by Frey, who had logged over 650 performances as an actor (both roles) in this show. The staging is seamless and keeps your focus fixed on the big picture to the smallest detail. Frey's direction is never forced, but natural and creative. He knows how to let the audience laugh one moment, breathe another and reflect the next. Like any good musical piece, Frey buttons each vignette perfectly.
Anita Stewart, set designer, gives us an elegant yet simple and balanced set with its large windows and framework of gold leaf color and black draperies. Two grand pianos donated by Starbird Music and Piano Gallery were prominently placed. Lighting designer, Gregg Carville, creates the best lighting of the season. His use of gobos, gel color, shadows and focus enhances every moment of the show. Carville's design should be a teaching tool of how lighting can make or break a performed moment, a scene or the play itself. Concert attire by Susan Thomas is appropriate and works well. Shane Van Vliet, yet again, stage manages a flawless show onstage and backstage.
Portland Stage Company has, in my opinion, saved the best show for last. Rather you're a lover of great theater or a Mozart wanna-be who spent endless hours tickling the ivories as you practiced the pages of your piano primer, this show is for you. For anyone who has ever dreamed the dream or survived the stress and anxiety that being good or being great at something can create, 2 Pianos 4 Hands is a must see.
Congratulations to Portland Stage Company for a fantastic season of professional theater made in Maine. I look forward to the 2012/2013 season which includes The Sisters Rosensweig, Homestead Crossing, Greater Tuna, A Song At Twilight, Love/Sick, and Wittenberg.
2 Pianos 4 Hands continues through July 1 at Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Avenue, Portland, ME. For tickets or more information, call (207) 774-0465 or go to www.portlandstage.org.
Review: Marie Antoinette: The Color Of Flesh
Portland Stage Company
By Michael J. Tobin
Marie Antoinette Nicely Executed
“If you want to make love to an artist, learn your colors,” exclaims Elisa in Portland Stage Company's stage palette of many emotions; Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh, by Joel Gross.
Perspective redefines beauty in a complicated 20 year love triangle between real life portrait artist Elisa, striving to join the upper class; Alexis, a fictitious aristocrat in love with the idea of revolution; and Marie Antoinette, last Queen of France and symbol of the French Monarchy. As the revolution gains momentum, the complex relationships between the three characters is challenged as politics converge and romance shatters their lives.
What works for this dramedy is the talented cast, exceptional costuming and unique technical elements. What doesn’t work is the script with its slow start and too-long act one that seems to lose itself within its own dialogue. Thankfully, act two is more focused in its writing and the pace quickens as relationships and conflict explode.
Director Daniel Burson does an excellent job making sense of Gross's words and paints some beautiful stage portraits with his blocking. Under Burson's direction, layers are chipped away and the character's real pictures are revealed. Given the length of the play, Burson moves the story along as quickly as he can and provides all the tools needed to evoke feeling from the audience, especially when it comes to the relationship between Marie and Elisa.
Ellen Adair (Marie) and Caroline Hewitt (Elisa) are period perfection. Their dialogue deliciously trickles from their lips as they maneuver their glorious costumes around the stage. Adair and Hewitt have solid, well acted individual characters but it is their relationship to each other that is like a rollercoaster of emotions. Hewitt, in particular, gives a beautifully layered performance.
There is no question that Tony Roach (Alexis) can act well but never took total command of the stage or the role. There was a lack of fire in his passion for both the two women and his quest for revolution.
Maria Tzianabos's period choreography was unobtrusive to watch, executed well and enhanced every scene it was used.
Anita Stewart, scenic designer, beautifully creates an artist’s sketchbook set with imperfections and void of much color, allowing the actors to paint their self-portraits with the color of their performances. I loved the way Stewart’s set transformed itself into each scene.
Applause must be given to production assistant Liz Pelty and wardrobe's Emily White who are dressed as servants and quickly bring on and take off set pieces and help with the many costume changes.
Bryon Winn, lighting designer, compliments every scene with his very effective use of light and gobo choices. Gel color is perfect.
David Remedios, sound designer, brought ear appealing incidental music to the play, however, I have yet to figure out what the sound effect was being used at the start of each act. It was up for much debate by several near-by patrons at intermission.
There is no question that the costume design of Hugh Hanson is the unspoken star of the play. Adair's costumes are simply stunning. Congratulations to Wigboys for some amazing high hair, beautifully maintained by James Herrera.
Stage Manager Myles C. Hatch runs a tight and smooth show.
Although the script has its flaws, the performances of Adair and Hewitt and Hanson’s costume design should have you calling for your tickets today to experience this professionally executed period dramedy.
Playwright Gross asks the audience whether the purpose of art is to portray life as it is or as one thinks it should be. After much inconclusive debate, one can only leave the theater confident that Portland Stage Company has given us yet another example of what great art is.
Marie Antoinette: The Color Of Flesh continues through May 20 at Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Ave, Portland ME. For tickets and more information call (20&0 774-0465 or go to portlandstage.org