By Iride Aparicio

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DAN HIATT and RENATA FRIEDMAN        Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

PALO ALTO, CA --- Written by LAURA SCHELLHARDT and presented at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto in its world premiere as part of the 2012 New Works Festival of THEATRE WORKS Silicon Valley, UPRIGHT GRAND is a clever work.

We can not call it a play yet, because the production seem more like a work-in-progress that needs a final polish. As it stands now, it is very short, it has no premise, the two main characters are not well developed and by the time the story shows us the conflict, conveniently, the work ends.

Yet  UPRIGHT GRAND  is entertaining enough to keep the audience’s  attention for its duration and make them wish that the playwright had given them more background on the two principal characters so that they could care for them. I would enjoy seeing a longer version of the work which seems to be shouting to add another character: pop’s wife.

The work’s action, that according to the program takes place “then and now,” starts at a bar where pop (DAN HIATT)  plays piano. Here we need to mention that the actual piano playing is done by accompanist, BRETT RYBACK an actor who also plays the roles of  Toady, (pop’s friend) a piano tuner, A tutor at the Juilliard School of music, and  Todd (Toady’s son) .

Upright Grand 2The action advances through the dialogues between Pop

(HIATT) and "Kiddo", his daughter (RENATA FRIEDMAN pictured at left) an intelligent shy girl who during her conversations with her father allow us to understand that as his daughter (probably his only child) she had always felt abandoned by him because in the past he had never been a father who included her in his life. He still doesn’t know her age.

As a pianist wanting to be a composer,  Pop had tried for years to compose an original song (which he never could) and  practices his piano repertoire for hours at home, during the day, so he could play his songs at the bar at night.

His daughter still remembers the only time when both of them went together to see a show of ice statues around Christmas at a park, and how much they both enjoyed their time together.  Sadly, the only time Pop asks  her daughter if she needs help, Her answer is “I need help with my entire life.”  The audience never learns why she needs help but we imagine that her problems must be serious because we later hear that she had been visiting her mother’s psychiatrist.

As daughter, “Kiddo” had been let down by her father who she believes is wasting his talent playing other people’s songs in a bar. She is also aware that he knows very little about her. He does not know how much she loves their upright piano at home, that she dislikes the grand piano at her grandparents' house or that at age six she wrote “Life is crap” in the side of the school of excellence and was punished for that.

The father daughter long conversations are interrupted by musical segments of popular songs, played at the piano by Pop  (but really interpreted by RIBACK in another piano) and even classical music played by "Kiddo." the girl that according to her father has a great capacity to experience joy, but that the audience does not see her experiencing it.

What the audience can detect is that "Kiddo," is also a good pianist. We learn that she was given piano lessons as a child and that all her teachers thought very highly of her and that she enjoys playing her piano at home.  And it is after her  father asks her to play something at the piano for him and he listens to her, that perhaps for the first time he realizes that she has talent and that she is a much better musician than he is.  After that, he decides to send her to Juilliard school of music.  After this point the work virtually ends.

What follows, the scenes of Kiddo in music school at Juilliard's conservatory of music are so sketchy that the work loses interest. If  "Kiddo" had problems at the school with her classes, with her classmates, with her  teachers, we don't see them. All we see is "Kiddo" starting school and then graduating, a few scenes latter, and getting ready to give concerts.  Here the work gave us the feeling that either the playwright was unaware of the intensive training required of a future concert pianist at Juilliard or just wanted to finish her work in a hurry.

UPRIGHT GRAND is creative and its dialogue conveys the passion musicians feel about their art. All the music played at the piano is played well and the acting of HIATT, as the father, FRIEDMAN as his young daughter and RIBACK in his different acting roles and as pianist is superb. 

But "Kiddo" (FRIEDMAN) needs a dialogue that makes her come alive to the audience, Pop a dialogue that make the audience feel his resentment and frustration, and yes, we would have loved to meet his wife (which we never see in the production) her her talking and observe them interacting with each other in order to understand why she needs to visit a psychiatrist three times a week and why she runs away with her psychiatrist at the end. As a fourth character in the work, Kiddo’s mother could have been fascinating.

 As a new work, UPRIGHT GRAND is worth seeing it, specially by the music lovers because of the music and because somehow it manages to speak their own language. The work, however, is not finished yet but it has the core of a GRAND PLAY.

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For Tickets and information the public may call (650) 463-l960 or visit theatreworks.org