Dad’s Piano tells tale well
Piano and story go hand-in-hand in almost perfect harmony in the play that premiered on Monday at Lunchbox.
The music is mostly by Beethoven, Schumann, Bach and Chopin, performed by concert pianist and local business exec, Jeffrey Neufeld.
The 12 scenes comprising the spoken end of things are the work of Calgary TV personality-turned-actor-turned-playwright, Dave Kelly.
The solo actor playing the multiple narrators who bring Kelly’s script to life is Christopher Hunt. And the show in which everything comes together is Dad’s Piano, a memory play that lingers in the mind, a small masterpiece with a big heart.
Kelly’s writing throughout Dad’s Piano is direct, unaffected, and honest — and played that way by the very talented Hunt who here seems a master at giving depth and weight to his characters through the barest economy of gesture, movement and vocal means.
Indeed, the whole production — three years in the making, we are told — is such a model of simplicity and conciseness that the humour and warmth of the piece, its quiet joy and gentle sadness, offer special eloquence and meaning to any theatregoer who has loved and lost a father.
The string of short stories that speak of Paul’s relationship to his father, and of his relationship in turn to his own son, Nick — and of the connection of all three to the piano — open with Paul’s reflections after being told his ailing father hasn’t long to live.
Paul’s monologue is the beginning of a journey of family reminiscence that also incorporate the perceptions of some who had dealings with Papa, Paul and Nick Weiss — everyone from Paul’s piano competition adjudicator and the dying Papa’s hospital nurse to Nick’s hockey coach (who wryly observes, in one of the comic bits peppering Kelly’s musical drama, that coaching is like being in a dog park: “I know the names of all the dogs, but I don’t know the owners”).
The piano voice in all of this — the beautifully paced play is directed by Kelly’s brother Rob, involved in the Dad’s Piano project from the outset — belongs to a Fazioli, a handmade, Lamborghini of an instrument provided by Irene Besse Keyboards.
The apt playlist Neufeld performs — and performs well, with an ear for balance between instrument and actor — includes a movement from a Beethoven sonata (the Op. 53) that takes on a recurring thematic role as the piece Papa loved best, Paul tells us.
Other pieces illustrate or define a mood, with only the positive note that sounds near the conclusion of Dad’s Piano (Latvian composer Georgs Pelecis’ variegated New Year’s Music) ringing not quite true in context, because of its comparative length.
Trimmed, or replaced entirely by something more from Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood (say), this musical part of the play wouldn’t seem to have had the last word in a show that Paul’s epilogue crowns perfectly.
Lunchbox Theatre presents Dad’s Piano by Dave Kelly through May 19. Tickets: 403-265-4292. Four and a half out of five.