Reviews: 2 Pianos 4 Hands, The Holiday Pageant

Actors who know their way around a piano: Michael Pearce Donley (seated) and Peter Vitale
Petronella Ytsma

One of the clichés of the modern world is "Failure is not an option." It's repeated in bad action movies, on endless sports broadcasts, and by politicos the world over. It seems that either you "win" or get destroyed in modern-day gladiatorial combat.

Of course, failure is more than an option—it's a reality for everyone, and often it can cause a sudden interruption of our dreams.

That theme runs beneath the surface of 2 Pianos 4 Hands, which sets out mainly to be a delightful romp through the young lives of the musically obsessed but turns into something deeper by play's end. At Park Square Theatre, a pair of terrific players take on the roles of dueling piano-playing friends who offer up great playing set pieces and dig deep into the show's considerable heart.

Creators Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt drew from their own experiences (and lent their names to the two characters) for the show. It traces their youthful evolution from uninterested beginners to ferociously competitive teens to, finally, hitting the wall of their talent short of their dreams of being professional concert pianists. Along the way, we are treated to a bevy of other characters, from their overbearing parents to teachers of varying skills.

During this time, the two are constantly at the keyboard, practicing their music or showcasing their skills. It provides a unique challenge for the two actors, who must perform at a high level while keeping the drama and humor alive.

Stepping into these roles are Peter Vitale as Richard and Michael Pearce Donley as Ted. The two actors certainly know their way around the piano, bringing a level of flair—not concert-pianist caliber of course—to the often difficult pieces the show tosses at them.

The acting is also engaging, but the show remains mainly a pleasant distraction until the last half of Act Two, when the drama gets ramped up. Both Ted and Richard receive brutal rejections for advanced studies and find their longtime dreams crushed. It only gets worse when they at first try to pick up the pieces by continuing on with their ambitions, but find that the path outside the recital hall is much tougher than they thought.

As an epilogue shows, the story doesn't remain grim. We finish with the two, now well into adulthood, sharing an evening together. We don't know what they have done with their lives, but they seem content and, in the end, even take a turn on the piano—not as professionals, just as two people who studied hard at one time and have never lost their love of music.

For the final year, Open Eye Figure Theatre presents its oddball take on the nativity story, The Holiday Pageant, complete with gassy shepherds and a supporting role from Lucifer. It's a nutty combination, but the talented performers and good-natured telling turn it into a holiday winner. Creator Michael Sommers leads here as Lucifer. He's in a bit of a funk, because the everyday tortures afforded to earthly souls just aren't doing it for him anymore.

A lowly devil, Teufel, tries to cheer him up to no avail. He even travels up to heaven to see if the Big Guy can offer him some relief. He's rejected—and God has other plans, involving bringing humanity out of its own spiritual funk by introducing his light to the world. Cutting between the devil's search for meaning and the story of Mary, Joseph, and the virgin birth, the play rollicks along, crafting an engaging bunch of characters along the way.

Sommers's refined devil sets the tone. Elise Langer has plenty of fun in the dual role of evil Teufel and good-hearted angel Matin, while Andy Kraft and Liza Schachertle make for a down-to-earth Mary and Joseph couple. There is puppetry, of course, and rounding out the experience are sterling musical pieces by Victor Zupanc performed by a quartet of musicians and a rotating community choir. The Holiday Pageant presents a complex take on the Christmas story (parents, if you take the kids, expect some questions), but there's plenty of warmth in its heart.

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