If they'd made it, they wouldn't have needed to create 2 Pianos, 4 Hands, a cathartic wash of everything terrific and terrible about growing up as a potential prodigy. And audiences from Seattle to London's West End -- and now the Missouri Repertory Theatre -- would have been robbed of this unorthodox yet highly infectious play with music.
Dykstra and Greenblatt portrayed themselves in early productions, but the roles have since been taken by Mark Anders and Carl J. Danielsen, respectively. It's a pairing as inspired as Tracy and Hepburn. Anders and Danielsen are more than two halves of a whole -- they seem to share those inexplicable traits exhibited by identical twins: One gets sad, and the other sheds the tears.
As good as it is, the ninety-minute, intermissionless play starts on a worrisome note: two grown men playing eight-year-olds. The boys are just starting their piano lessons, so we see Anders, for example, pounding out ugly, unformed sounds while Danielsen plays a teacher. They volley this technique back and forth, but just when you might begin to think so grow up, already, the play creates something magical -- and any excuse to get to that point is forgiven.
The story begins to form around two young males of a different stripe than most. They carp about lessons, but it's clear their pianos are their best friends. In an early scene, Anders is chastised by his father (played by Danielsen) because he's not practicing enough. Later, when his dad loudly berates him for practicing too much, there's a stinging subtext to the scene -- Dad thinks he may have created a pansy. Anders sits deflated at the piano, feeling the load of every kid who's ever gotten a mixed message.
Humorous scenes abound as well, especially one that re-creates two different teachers' approaches to playing arpeggios. One says you must use both hands, lest it come off as crude and choppy. The other says that using two hands is flamboyant -- look like Liberace, and you'll never get laid.
The boys find their happy medium and eventually apply to different conservatories. (The scenes are especially resonant considering that the Rep performs in the same building that houses the UMKC Conservatory.) By that time, Ted is remaining true to classical piano while Richard leans toward jazz. Both auditions go poorly, but the boys, now in their teens, have the good sense not to blame their instrument. They suck it up and keep playing.
Anders and Danielsen are as talented at the piano as they are at acting. The play is creatively interspersed with classical melodies by the likes of Mozart and Beethoven and, in one scene that is especially well-executed (with tremendous lighting by Don Darnutzer), popular piano standards such as "Bennie and the Jets" and Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy." It's funny when Anders and Danielsen are caught playing pop, a genre their instructors consider trashy and dispensable.
Directed quite briskly by Bruce K. Sevy upon a grand set by Scott Weldin, 2 Pianos, 4 Hands is an exquisite entertainment. Dykstra and Greenblatt might not have been destined for Carnegie Hall but their tale about trying -- about having a dream and necessarily altering it to fit reality -- strikes a major chord.