Review: Arts Club Theatre Company’s “The Piano Teacher”
Sometimes the true treasures in a work of art aren’t in the full picture but in the smaller nuances. In Dorothy Dittrich’s new script The Piano Teacher, it’s the subtleties that really shine through. Overall, the script is a bit slow, uneventful, and tends to feel like it’s stuck on a loop at the worst of times. But when getting into the details, there are a lot of very beautiful moments here that remind us of the fleeting nature of life, the importance of human connection, and, frankly, how important it is to deal with the shit that life serves us rather than suppressing it.
The entire production is laced with the main character, Erin (Megan Leitch), and her unraveling truth about the grief she bares. Erin’s been through hell and it’s evident in her overly morose tone, her lack of letting herself enjoy life, and the tense interactions she shares with others. But Erin is extremely guarded and we don’t really fully find out why until the play draws to a close. It’s an impressive performance by Leitch, but character-wise Erin is frustratingly one note for much of the production. She reverts to a stubborn, child-like anger through much of the production, consistently stuck in self doubt and lacking self compassion. On the plus side, we’ve all met someone in this situation in real life before, and Leitch’s portrayal is spot on. The lack of variety in her mood is all too real.
To offset Erin’s emotionally overwrought performance, we have the roles of her piano teacher Elaine (Caitriona Murphy) and a contractor named Tom (Kamyar Pazandeh) who Erin hires to install a window into her home to, both physically and metaphorically, let some light in. Both of these characters are more enjoyable to watch over the course of The Piano Teacher. Not only does Elaine offer some musical relief to break up the tension, but her wisdom and perspective is a welcome break from the dark cloud that is Erin. Like Erin, though, Elaine has some haunting spots in her oeuvre, but her character is more balanced in between flaws and strengths. Pazandeh’s Tom is perhaps the most relatable of the lot, offering an easy going nature that gets boiled up in the face of adversity when he has to.
The Goldcorp Stage is transformed into a clever combination of Erin’s home and Elaine’s piano studio, both intertwined and doubling for the other at the peak of the performance. Erin’s landing is itself transformed from a spatial white wall into a window-baring opening into the outside world mid performance once Tom does his meticulously craftsmanship. Like any other Arts Club show, the technical and artistic elements are some of the strongest parts of the performance. This time around, though, a confusing series of metal wires stretch from ceiling to floor without any real purpose other than giving Elaine something to pluck at in a distracting manner when she’s emotionally distraught.
The combination of these three individuals is the perfect chemistry for this production, offering varied perspectives dealing with loss, confrontation, personal conflict, and heartache. We have such a medley of emotions onstage throughout the production and the huge spectrum of reactions is mesmerizing to watch. In fact, the distinctions of the characters’ portrayals are what make The Piano Teacher interesting. While the script fails to let the characters actually do anything in terms of establishing a formative narrative, we receive performances that, instead, rely on emotional journeys. And maybe that’s the whole point of this production entirely.
The Piano Teacher isn’t about teaching or pianos or art or any of that. It’s about the emotional paths we embark on, the people who come into our lives at important intervals, and the life lessons we learn along the way. In this script, that’s where the value is, and that’s entirely important.
Main image: Caitriona Murphy, Megan Leitch, and Kamyar Pazandeh in Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of The Piano Teacher. All photography by David Cooper.
The Piano Teacher: Written by Dorothy Dittrich. Directed by Yvette Nolan.
Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of The Piano Teacher runs through May 14, 2017 at The Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre.