Sunday 30 September 2018

 Piano Teacher = grief + release through music
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

Ed. note : For those who may have missed the ACT On Tour schedule of Piano Teacher that this week commences its B.C. chatauqua at Capilano College on Thursday, its schedule for friends & family in those cities is noted for readers to alert them. And for those who may have missed the 2017 BLR review, an amended version is appended to the schedule. 

Arts Club 2018 On Tour Schedule of Piano Teacher

October 4 / Thursday

October 5 &6 / Friday-Saturday

Surrey Arts Centre
October 10-20 / Wednesday - Saturday

October 21 / Sunday

October 23-27 / Tuesday - Saturday

October 30 / Tuesday

November 1 / Thursday

November 2 / Friday

November 3 & 4 / Saturday & Sunday

Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre
November 6 / Tuesday

From the footlights : Some say there are but two emotions, love & fear. Others claim three fundamental moods rule us : mad, sad, glad. But that at any moment we choose which one. Grief is "sad", for sure. And clearly it has elements of both love and fear that inform it. 

The extent to which we can choose our way out of grief   or not  lies at the heart of The Piano Teacher by Dorothy Dittrich now On Tour at the above 10 cities & venues.  (N.B. Its 2017 ACT production scored it a Jessie Richardson Award for Outstanding Original Script.) 

2017 Director Yvette Nolan described the show thus : "Dorothy's characters grapple with loss and grief, as we all do. They wonder why, and then they stumble forward, they catch each other when one threatens to tumble. And through it all they are buoyed by, yearning for, uplifted by, art. The piano, music, the very act of creation, is the antidote to grief, the answer to and the expression of loss."

Robert Frost's 1915 poem perhaps said it most clearly by reminding us that "The best way out is always through."

Striving mother / widow Erin (Megan Leitch) tries to get her life rhythm back with the help of her piano teacher Elaine (Catriona Murphy). The effort strikes notes and chords not always harmonic.
Photo credit : David Cooper
What the show brings to the stage : Further to the mad / sad/ glad observation above, fact is some folks enjoy a surfeit of joie de vivre. Others suffer a malaise I have termed mal de vivre  melancholy, the blues, a vague but persistent angst.

Two of this play's three characters are stuck, in their own way, in the latter category. The bereaved and grieving widow / mother Erin (Megan Leitch) is openly in the grip of her pain-&-loss : she doesn't even crack a smile until 10 minutes into Act 2 of this 90-minute show. 

Her instructor life coach, guru, piano-bench therapist -- Elaine (Caitriona Murphy) is also emotionally crippled a wee bit despite her liberating effect on Erin. 

Boyfriend Tom (Kamyar Pazandeh), meanwhile, is front-&-centre in the joie camp and offers the show the slight snigger of comic relief it sorely needs.

Production values that shine : Set designer David Roberts comes in for particular mention and kudos right up front. The 2017 show was the first time the 1st Avenue stage was arranged runway style. It proved very effective. 

The set is spare and minimalist and representative, anchored mid-stage by the baby grand piano that is the centrepiece of the plot, lit.-&-fig. A landing downstage right provides a place for up-close-&-personal exchanges between the characters. 

Some barely visible strings  20 of them  descended from ceiling to floor in the BMO set's living room area. They were arranged syncopatically to represent the random threads and strings, piano and otherwise, that intersect the play's characters and their musical lives.

Sometimes talking grief through & through is indeed the "best way out". Soon the casual exchanges between Tom and Erin will lead to more intimate involvement. 
Photo credit : David Cooper
Acting pin-spots : A particularly nuanced performance by Caitriona Murphy as the arthritic piano teacher Elaine. She pines for the performer life she left behind when the stiffening in her joints set in at a young age. She observes, repeatedly, that Canadian jazz great Oscar Peterson gnarled with arthritis his whole career. Still, she fights back in her own way, describing both musical and human dramatics  : "We live in patterns, consciously or unconsciously. And we are always creating new patterns," she says, "new stories, new rituals that give us new shape and form : how would we ever hold ourselves together if we didn't?"

When she finally gets Erin to join her in a duet arrangement of Aaron Copland's "Saturday Night Waltz" from his iconic piece Rodeo, she declares : "I can't imagine better proof of God than music -- the invisible, the ephemeral...". 

Who gonna like : Faithful readers of BLR know how fond this reviewer is of intimate small-space black-box theatre. The staging of The Piano Teacher physically as well as its casting and its blocking and the actors' crisp execution of their roles all contribute to a rich evening theatrically and thematically. The nearly-full-house opening night gave the group a gusty and heartfelt and deserved standing-o

Particulars :  Produced by The Arts Club in 2017 as its 11th Silver Commission. Performed at the BMO Theatre Centre in 2017.  On Tour as noted supra.  Run-time two hours including one Intermission.  Tickets & schedule information via phone at the individual venues or by visiting Arts Club.

2018 On Tour Production crew :  Co-Directors Scott Bellis & Rachel Ditor. [2017 original Director Yvette Nolan].  Dramaturg Rachel Ditor.  Set Designer David Roberts.  Costume Designer Jenifer Darbellay.  Tour Lighting Designer Ted Roberts [2017 original Lighting Designer Kyla Gardiner].  Sound Designer Patrick Pennefather.  Stage Manager Sandra Drag.  Apprentice Stage Manager Becca Jorgensen. 

Performers : Megan Leitch (Erin).  Caitriona Murphy (Elaine).  Kamyar Pazandeh (Tom).


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