Mona Golabek is a woman with exemplary and extraordinary talents. She is an accomplished award-winning concert pianist who has performed her magnificent music throughout the world. But a recent triumph is her performance in a remarkable one-woman show, The Pianist of Willesden Lane, being presented at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater in the Geffen Playhouse. The story is a true account based on the book by Mona Golabek, entitled The Children of Willesden Lane, which tells the life story of her mother, Lisa Jura, a survivor of the Holocaust and who also became a concert pianist. The play was adapted and is directed by Hershey Felder, a superb pianist himself as well as a performer well-known for creating and performing in one-man shows (George Gershwin Alone, Monsieur Chopin, Beethoven As I Knew Him, and Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein).
As host, Mona introduces her story and then tells it while performing all of the characters that were a part of Lisa's life and, at the same time, playing all of Lisa's beloved music. The stage is bare except for large picture frames on the back wall behind a beautiful Steinway piano.
Lisa was born in Vienna in 1938 to a Jewish family with two other daughters. As a young girl, it was her dream to become a concert pianist and make her debut at the Musiverein Concert Hall. Lisa adored her piano teacher and he, obviously, recognized the exceptional talent that she had. But suddenly life changed and her teacher told her that he was not allowed to give music lessons any longer to anyone Jewish. This was but the beginning of the fate that befell the Jura family as well as all Jews in Europe.
When Lisa's father was picked up and beaten by the Gestapo, he returned home with one ticket that could save only one child by sending her to England on the Kindertransport. The family decided it would be Lisa, and before she left, her mother said to her, "Hold on to your music." Getting on the train and leaving her family was very traumatic and she felt that she would never see her home or family in Vienna again. She eventually ended up in a hostel for Jewish children on Willesden Lane in London where she found many friends. But Lisa longed to "hold on" to her music, and when she found a piano in the basement of the hostel, she was able to continue clinging to her dream. Life was still difficult for all of the children as they lived through the war and the London Blitz. But eventually, Lisa's dream did come true.
As the story unfolds, pertaining scenes are presented in the large picture frames behind the piano. Golabek brings all of the characters to life, and as she tells her family story, it is difficult not to shed tears. While she performs the compositions by Grieg, Chopin, Mozart, the music that meant so much to her mother, hearing and seeing the passion in her interpretations, is touching as well.
In a production such as this, recognition need be given to the scenic co- designers David Buess and Trevor Hay, lighting designer Christopher Rynne, projection designer Greg Sowizdrzal and sound designer Erik Carstensen. The Pianist of Willesden Lane, runs one hour and forty minutes with no intermission. It plays Tuesday through Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 3 PM and 8 PM, and Sunday at 2 PM and 7 PM, through Sunday, June 24, at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Westwood Village in Los Angeles. Tickets are available at the Playhouse Box Office, by telephone at (310) 208-5454, or online at www.geffenplayhouse.com. Highly recommended.