By Dorothy Dittrich. Directed by Yvette Nolan. An Arts Club Theatre production at the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre on April 26. Continues until May 14
There’s a purity and simplicity to The Piano Teacher that’s as moving as a clean line of melody.
This world premiere by local playwright Dorothy Dittrich is a beautiful meditation on grief, loss, and the healing power of music. Megan Leitch plays Erin, a concert pianist whose career has been hijacked by trauma: she hasn’t so much as touched a piano in the two years since her husband died. She meets Elaine through a friend and asks for lessons. As Elaine gently reacquaints her with her instrument, Erin begins to make changes in the rest of her life as well. A simple change to her home, for instance, brings the unexpected companionship of her contractor, Tom.
Dittrich’s unadorned dialogue is refreshingly direct: the characters speak and listen intently to one another, usually without subtext. It’s quietly riveting, as is the gentle progression Elaine uses to help Erin overcome her fear of the piano: she starts out by just sitting on the bench, nowhere near the instrument. The emotional impact when Erin’s fingers finally touch the keys is enormous; it’s a climax that’s been earned.
Music is central to the story, and it’s a source of both thematic depth and offhand humour—Erin can’t stand Ludwig van Beethoven because she thinks “he was probably a bit of a bastard,” while Elaine admits that Frederick Chopin’s music “reminds me of clammy hands”. Elaine frequently addresses the audience directly, sharing her philosophy of music as relationship. The notes we actually hear—both performed live and in Patrick Pennefather’s spare, lyrical sound design—are skillfully, economically deployed.
Director Yvette Nolan’s casting is impeccable. Caitriona Murphy’s Elaine is as warm and nourishing as a campfire at a cookout; she radiates caring and compassion. Megan Leitch is the perfect counterpart: a shell hollowed out by loss, she is fragile and tentative, struggling to push past her disorientation. When grief overwhelms her, it’s heartbreaking to watch. Kamyar Pazandeh’s open-hearted confidence makes Tom irresistibly charming. Nolan’s unhurried pace allows the feelings to ripen.
And Nolan’s staging capitalizes on the Goldcorp Stage’s intimacy and flexibility, with the audience seated on opposite sides of the playing area. David Roberts’s multilevel set allows the action to move seamlessly between Elaine’s home and Erin’s; a curving wall of floor-to-ceiling strings near the piano evokes both the source of the instrument’s sound and the almost imperceptible imprisonment that both Erin and Elaine experience from the losses that have defined them. Kyla Gardiner’s lighting delicately sculpts the space and the mood.
The Arts Club earns huge credit for commissioning this play, which deserves a long life here and elsewhere. Get a ticket now so you can say you were one of the first to see it.