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Post-Democracy by Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch premieres in a filmed production available from Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange on Thursday.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Twenty-five years ago this week, 2 Pianos, 4 Hands premiered at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto – and the play for two actor-pianists has hardly ever not been onstage somewhere since then.

Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt’s co-written coming-of-age comedy about two boys passionately pursuing and eventually painfully letting go of their dreams of being concert pianists has been seen by close to two million people over its roughly 4,000 performances to this point, according to its producers.

That makes it one of the most-seen Canadian plays of all time between the multiple tours and remounts performed by its creators, including runs off-Broadway and on the West End, and all its subsequent productions.

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Now 2 Pianos, 4 Hands is about to be seen by even more people despite COVID-19 stage shutdowns. On Tuesday, Broadway HD, a streaming service founded by forward-thinking American producers in 2015 that has become popular during the pandemic, announced that it will add a recording of the show to its on-demand line-up on April 13.

A high-quality film of the show was made of Dykstra and Greenblatt’s final performances in it at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton back in 2013. While it has been available on DVD, it has never been broadcast or streamed before – and it will become one of the first Canadian productions not of the Stratford Festival to land alongside big-budget musicals such as Cats and Kinky Boots on Broadway HD.

I’m looking forward to revisiting 2 Pianos, 4 Hands, which I first saw as a high-schooler considering a career in the arts at the Centaur Theatre in Montreal in 1997 – and then saw again, as an adult who didn’t pursue that path professionally, when Mirvish presented it in Toronto in 2003 and 2011.

It’s a virtuosic-to-a-point show that is poignant in different ways at different ages. As Paula Citron wrote in her rave review for The Globe and Mail during that most recent Toronto stand, “There are some shows you can see over and over again.”

A play entitled Post-Democracy must be responding to events of recent years, no? The assaults on the election results by Trumpists in the United States? The teetering of other countries on the brink of authoritarianism?

Actually, Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s new drama of that name, which premieres in a filmed production available from Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange on Thursday, has been in development since George W. Bush was the American president. I saw a promising scene from it get workshopped at the Rhubarb Festival all the way back in 2008.

A PTE press release describes the plot of the long-gestating play, set amid the 1 per cent, thusly: “The CEO of a massive international automotive parts corporation and his top executives are on a business trip for a major deal when a damaging company sex scandal is unearthed back home.”

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Moscovitch’s career momentum hasn’t slowed down too much this past year. Her 2011 show Little One got a live production in Cape Breton in the fall, and her most recent hit, Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes, was chosen to reopen the Melbourne Theatre Company’s main stage on the other side of the planet last month.

While we await her work’s return to live performance in Canada OOTAB (outside of the Atlantic bubble), which chose a disappointingly different path to tackling the pandemic than Australia, the online debut of a new play of hers is as major a theatrical event as it gets. Look for my review later this week.

Speaking of “post”-dramatic theatre in Winnipeg, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre is premiering a new digital production of Tomson Highway’s sweet one-woman musical The (Post) Mistress, starring the Cree/Métis singer and actor Krystle Pederson. It’s available across the country from April 8 to 25. (Here’s my review of a 2016 production starring Patricia Cano.)

I didn’t want to lead with the bad news again, but I can’t ignore what’s happened to the theatre industry in Ontario.

Imposed last week, the province’s so-called “emergency brake” has once again completely shuttered performing arts centres, putting an end to rehearsals and any immediate plans to live-stream or record theatre.

Theatre troupes in Ontario face harsher restrictions than those in other provinces (see all the action in Manitoba alone, above). Meanwhile, as with previous lockdowns, film and television production remains permitted.

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A couple of the repercussions: The Shaw Festival has pushed back its first preview of Charley’s Aunt from May 1 to May 16, while Theatre Passe Muraille has postponed a major digital production called Toka.

“I think the industry is still struggling to understand why filming in our own space with strict protocols is considered a public-health risk versus the large scale of film and television, which is still permitted,” says Marjorie Chan, artistic director of TPM, who notes Toka’s team – which includes several individuals who have already had their first vaccine shot – was being regularly tested and masked during rehearsals as on TV shoots.

Jacoba Knaapen with the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts says the umbrella organization is “continuing our advocacy work for regulatory fairness with the film and television sector.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be registering with the provincial powers that be.

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