Three Pianos

A trio of downtown musicians plays with Franz Schubert's Winterreise.

  • LOONY TUNES Malloy, Duffy and Burkhardt, from left, make beautiful music together.

LOONY TUNES Malloy, Duffy and Burkhardt, from left, make beautiful music together.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

Franz Schubert’s 1828 song cycle Winterreise is one of classical music’s most tempting exercises in mood: Choreographers have made masterpieces to it, and this past December we even had Brit-hit Katie Mitchell’s version, full of sound effects and added bits of Samuel Beckett. The biting, modernist tone of Wilhelm Mller’s source poems bewitches contemporary creative types, but they can’t resist painting the piece in cold monochrome—probably to mimic the lyrics’ jilted narrator, who slogs gloomily through the snow. Thank goodness downtown theater don’t roll like that. In the boisterous, offhandedly virtuosic Three Pianos, writer-performers Alec Duffy, Dave Malloy and Rick Burkhardt lasso Schubert’s sacred cow and serve it up as barbecue.

The trio is a real-life music-theater supergroup. Duffy directed the lovely portrait-of-a-chorus The less we talk, Malloy composed Banana Bag & Bodice’s rocked-out Beowulf, and Burkhardt—in work such as the tremendous Great Hymn of Thanksgiving—likes to elide the line between music and nonmusic, between composition and conversation. Here, the three alternate between explaining Schubert’s cycle and singing it. They also get the audience drunk, circle their instruments like panicked wagon pioneers, toast one another with bourbon they find in their benches and roar with laughter. Director Rachel Chavkin still makes them find quiet moments on Andreea Mincic’s set, a charming miniature that makes the Ontological seem suddenly vast. That other distance, though—between Schubert’s hard-partying circle and our own—vanishes. Full-blooded and full-bodied, Three Pianos lifts its glass to music, to Schubert and to the type of friendship that can make you laugh off heartbreak. It’s also a superb evening. Cheers.—Helen Shaw

See more Theater reviews

Ontological-Hysteric Theater. Written and performed by Alec Duffy, Dave Malloy and Rick Burkhardt. Dir. Rachel Chavkin. 1hr 45mins. No intermission.