2 Pianos 4 Hands and The Santaland Diaries

From musical stage dreams to becoming an elf, these favorites are worth another look

Richard Greenblatt and Ted Dykstra created 2 Pianos 4 Hands out of memories of their youthful years, when they practiced hard and dreamed big of being professional classical musicians.

The play (with lots of music) makes a return to Park Square Theatre, and it proves once again to be a showcase for actors Peter Vitale and Michael Pearce-Donley, who not only take on myriad characters but tackle plenty of music on the main feature of the set: a pair of grand pianos.

Vitale and Pearce-Donley play characters much like the playwrights, and they even take on the names of the authors. The main action of the play takes place over a decade, as they go from elementary school kids making their first inroads to playing music to teenagers whose ambitions have outstripped their drive and talent.

When good isn't good enough: Michael Pearce-Donley (left) and Peter Vitale
Petronella Ystma
When good isn't good enough: Michael Pearce-Donley (left) and Peter Vitale

Details

2 Pianos 4 Hands
Park Square Theatre
20 W. Seventh Pl., St. Paul
651.291.7005; through Dec. 30

The Santaland Diaries
Southern Theatre
1420 S. Washington Ave., Minneapolis
612.724.3760; through Dec. 23

Along the way, the actors also get to play a variety of eccentric piano teachers who give sometimes contradictory advice. They are also tormented by parents who may drive them to play, play, play, but also eventually are concerned by just how much time they are spending at the keyboard.

All this comes to a head when Richard and Ted look to jump up to the next stage. In a pair of humiliating scenes, they learn that their talent is little more than average in the greater world and that their futures likely lie outside the concert stage (though for both of the real authors it ended up being onstage).

These roles are difficult to cast, as they demand performers who can both act and play at high levels. The pair here does well on both sides of the equation, showcasing the chops needed to bring the show to full life. They've had practice, since this is the second time in three holiday seasons that Park Square has presented the work. However, it's a worthy revival, as it's a show that reveals much the second time around.

The Santaland Diaries

Frank Theatre's The Santaland Diaries opens without any real fanfare. The lights dim a bit and actor Joe Leary walks onto the stage, dressed in street clothes. It's the transformation that takes place in the next 70 minutes that is the star of the show.

Based on David Sedaris's famous memories of working as an elf at Macy's Santaland in New York City, the stage version is often a scattershot trip into a Christmas past. Joe Mantello's script doesn't necessarily provide a clear journey for our character, with recollections seemingly gathered without thought to the shape of the piece.

Despite these disadvantages, the stage show — Frank's third foray — is tremendously fun, with lots of sharp (even brutal) humor and a core that can get to the most jaded of viewers. After all, if Sedaris can find a bit of authentic Christmas cheer at Macy's, then we all can find it somewhere.

Leary moves easily into the character, as comfortable in the mad elf costume as in the regular clothes he wears at the beginning. He is able to tie all the diffuse pieces of the script together, mainly through his charm as a performer and the ability to get beyond the humor into the core of what's happening onstage.

The staging by Wendy Knox is equally adept, while set designer Steve Rohde gives us work that fills the space at the Southern without overwhelming Leary or the play.

 
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