The Piano Lesson

I saw August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson tonight at Yale Rep. Well, technically it was last night, since it’s now after midnight and I should be in bed since it’s a work night, but I wanted to write this before my thoughts dissipated. It’s directed by Liesl Tommy, by the way.

It’s beautiful. Parts of it are absolutely stunning. And the walk home, at 11:30pm, is breathtaking, but only in the cold, literal sense.

The music. The piano. The silence.

I think tonight had some of the richest, most meaningful silences I’ve heard in a long time. They weren’t afraid to let silences linger, to fill up with tension and deepening shades of emotion. There’s no need to fill in the spaces with music: meaning can lie in a lack of words as much as it can lie in words themselves, and in the spaces between words.

Okay, I didn’t always love the sound design between scenes. Though there was a lovely moment where the scene change music melted into the sound of the radio on set.

But the singing.

The work song that arose out of a conversation and built into a duet, a trio, a quartet, with hands and feet and a spoon on a frying pan. The harmony, the individual lines, the musical and physical energy: exhilarating.

The studied lack of expression in the song a child plays on the piano.

The heartbreaking beauty that emerges from a song sung by a drunk man missing a woman that is gone. A song he wrote, and that he plays on the piano even while falling over. The sweet softness of long falsetto notes, floating out from hidden reserves of inner beauty and strength.

The jarring major chord from the fingers you didn’t think would ever touch the piano. The voice, full of years and aches and fear, falling short of the highest notes but perfect anyway, because that’s what the moment is about.

It’s a long night – over three hours with intermission – but it’s a good long, unfolding at exactly the pace it’s supposed to, with nothing extraneous. There’s some really fabulous acting, especially from… well, just about everyone. I liked the way the set gave you the neighborhood even though you were inside a house. The lighting was great, except for a couple of odd glitches. Anyway, if you’re around here, go see it, please.

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