In the beginning, you are curled in front of a fireplace, listening and chuckling as a sweet old woman shares her memories and her treasured cookie stash. She tells you about her first thwarted career as a concert pianist (small hands), her second thwarted career as a piano tuner (ear infection) and her third, very successful career as a piano teacher. The old woman, Mrs. K, tells you that her ordinary life was nothing but crosswords, cardigans, ivory keys and teacups.
But even as she shares her history, it is clear that the elderly Mrs. K is much more certain of her future than she is of her past.
Under the direction of Ed Stern, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s production of Julia Cho’s play The Piano Teacher is a stark, engrossing and painful thriller. Memory is not a lane meant for strolling; memory is labyrinth. There are places that cannot be avoided and even others that cannot be faced. And stories, those we tell others and those we tell ourselves, are forces to be reckoned with.
Carefully crafted by gifted actor Dale Hodges, Mrs. K is infused with pluck, cleverly meant to distract us from her frailty and loneliness. Joy C. Hooper’s performance as one of Mrs. K’s former students is gentle and astute. By contrast, another former student, played by actor Johnson Chong, is frighteningly unhinged and dangerous.
The three share a dark past that has powerfully shaped the students' adult lives, but seems to come as a shock to their grandmotherly teacher. The audience is led to wonder, “What are we made of?” Chocolate and talent, like Mrs. K? Or something truly sinister? Evil is perhaps not as far from our happy hearths as we would like, on a distant continent, happening to people we’ll never meet. Evil is in our neighborhoods, our homes, our kitchens — ourselves.
The Piano Teacher is a tense, chilling series of dissonant harmonies, unresolved.
THE PIANO TEACHER is presented by the Playhouse at the Thompson Shelterhouse Theatre through March 13. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.