Produced by: TheatreWorks
Featuring: Christopher Tocco and Darren Dunstan
Directed by: Tom Frey
Running time: 120 minutes, one intermission
When: January 14 through February 8, 2015. Extended through February 15, 2015.
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View, California.
Tickets: $19-$74 (subject to change; discounts available). Visit theatreworks.org or call 650-463-1960.
Read Tom Frey's interview with Chad Jones at SF Gate.
Read Robert Hurwitt's review of
"4 Hands 2 Pianos" at SF Gate.
Read Karen D'Souza's review of
"4 Hands 2 Pianos" at Mercury News.
Tom Frey is a theater gypsy, an Equity actor and director who travels around the nation doing all sorts of acting and directing jobs, but he is perhaps best known for "2 Pianos 4 Hands," which he is directing at TheatreWorks.
"It's always meant a lot to me," he said during a phone conversation last week. "I've always connected to this specific story."
The story is of two pianists how they began in lessons and developed in competition, both aiming for keyboard stardom. But not quite making it. It's a two-hander, with each actor/pianist playing the other's parents and teachers at different times, and each other's friends. The music ranges from Bach to Jerry Lee Lewis.
It was written by Canadians Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, for themselves, in 1995 (opening in 1996), and has since become one of the most popularly performed plays of the last decade. It's been seen by hundreds of millions of people on five continents. It's funny, and anyone who has ever strived for creative excellence especially in the demanding world of classical music can easily identify with it.
But its limiting factor is finding actors who can do it.
"It's hard to cast," says Frey, who himself has performed the show both roles, more than 800 times, and has directed it 14 times, including this iteration at TheatreWorks. "The actors have to play piano really well, but primarily be character actors. They need backgrounds like the real guys (Dykstra and Greenblatt).
"There are probably only 25 people who have done the show. It's a very small club. From the director's point of view, it is so hard to find people who can do this show.
"That's part of the magic of it."
And, he says, "It is a really funny play. It's not a wrenching evening of soul-searching. The story uses humor in many different ways to tell its story of self discovery."
Frey himself was traumatized by piano studies in his youth, becoming terrorized by the thought of playing in front of people, not an uncommon experience in serious young pianists.
"When I was 17 or 18," he says, "I was dealing with information or lack thereof, that a 17-year-old experiences."
So he gave up that idea of being a big-deal concert pianist, and focused on becoming an actor.
"The difference between playing piano and acting is vast," he says. "They don't exist in the same place.
"As a kid, absolute perfection is demanded in classical music, which is one of the things the play talks about.
"But acting is more like playing jazz. ... I was so terrified of making a mistake, when playing classical music as a kid. The play talks about that."
But when "4 Hands 2 Pianos" came along, "I just knew I had to give it a try," Frey says. "It was immersion therapy. It forced me to face a lot of demons, but I was older. I had more resources I could use."
Still, after playing the two roles himself, hundreds of times, he finds he prefers directing the show, not acting in it.
"After a while, it's exhausting," he says. "It's great to be able to help two other guys in their journey through this piece."
The two guys he is helping at TheatreWorks are Christopher Tocco as Richard, and Darren Dunstan as Ted. It's Tocco's second time in the play, and Dunstan's first.
When Frey and I talked, they'd already done an invited dress rehearsal and one preview, and it was "going great, the audience loved us," he says. The show has now opened, but I missed opening night.
What does this show accomplish?
"The real Ted and Richard once told me a story," Frey says. "They said they knew they had a good thing, a successful thing, when people would come up to them after a show and talk about themselves.
"'That was me. I was that partner, that student, that teacher.'
"One of the amazing things the show does is remind people what they went through. There are so many points of recognition.
"It's a way to talk about what happens when reality descends on your first dream whether you want to be a pianist or a golfer what do you do with you realize that's not going to work out? Who are you? How does that change you?"
Email John Orr at email@example.com