Carl J. Danielsen and Mark Anders in 2 Pianos, 4 Hands.

Sour Notes

The music is nice, and the two actors play the piano amazingly well, but in all honesty, the Denver Center Theatre Company production of 2 Pianos, 4 Hands feels like pretty thin gruel. In a series of short, comic vignettes, it details the struggles of two youngsters bent on careers in classical music. The boys learn the basics of music, interact with a variety of teachers, fight with their parents (one over not practicing enough; the second, slightly older, because he's so obsessed with music that he does nothing but practice), face the cruelties of the audition process and struggle with the finality of giving up the dream.

This should be fertile territory. Of the millions of children who are drawn to careers in the arts, only a minuscule percentage succeed, yet the search entirely shapes these young minds and lives. Many years ago, a friend told me about her violinist daughter's odyssey. The girl was the uncontested star of her small town; she flew through tests and auditions and won competitions. Throughout her teens, she participated in a highly prestigious summer festival, making her way up, year by year, through the ranks of the festival's orchestra -- until the year when she should have been named first violin but, inexplicably, wasn't. That's when she knew that, talented as she was, she wasn't talented enough.

My friend took her daughter on a consolatory shopping expedition. "I remember her standing in the dressing room half-naked and crying," she told me. "All she kept saying was, 'If I'm not a musician, what am I?'"


2 Pianos, 4 Hands

Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex

Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company
Through April 26

(A doctor, as it turned out. And no doubt the young woman's musicality and years of discipline and practice helped her get through medical school and enhanced her healing ability.)

Then there's the impossible but utterly absorbing search for artistic perfection, the joy of being lost in the creative process and the bitterness of knowing how little most of the world values the fruits of that process.

But with the exception of a few genuinely funny or touching moments, 2 Pianos doesn't provide insight into any of this. The beginning scenes, in which the boys start to fathom the complexities of making music, are by far the most appealing, but the scenes that follow aren't much deeper than the average Saturday Night Live skit. Mark Anders and Carl J. Danielsen, though skilled performers, don't rise much above this level, either, sketching out the multiple roles they play rather than inhabiting them, so that the accents of French and German music teachers, for example, remain pretty generic, and the other characters seem more caricature than portrait.


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