THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE earns a standing ovation at Berkeley Rep

In her one-woman show The Pianist of Willesden Lane, piano virtuoso Mona Golabek chronicles her mother’s escape from the Holocaust. Photo courtesy of mellopix.com

THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE: Solo Performance.  Based on the book “The Children of Willesden Lane” by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen. Directed and adapted by Hershey Felder. Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Thrust Theatre, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704. (510) 647-2949 or  www.berkeleyrep.org. EXTENDED THROUGH January 5, 2014

THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE earns a standing ovation at Berkeley Rep

 Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5 stars)

Just four months ago Berkeley Rep mounted a highly successful and critically acclaimed solo performance of George Gershwin Alone written and performed by the author who has set his sights on demonstrating that music can and does sooth the savage beast. This time around he has directed and adapted a true story based on the book The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek & Lee Cohn proving “music has the power to help us survive.”

 The primary survivor in the book is 14 year old Lisa Jura a fledging pianist studying with a master teacher in 1938 Vienna. When the Nazis issued laws preventing her teacher from giving Jews lessons her dreams of a concert debut of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in Vienna are dashed but not crushed and her resiliency is dramatized in words, projections and stunning piano music.

Mona Golabek, an accomplished pianist is the daughter of Lisa Jura and she gives a heart wrenching performance without histrionics often allowing the piano music do the speaking. Grieg’s haunting A Minor concerto frequently weaves in and out of the narrative reminding the audience of Lisa’s heartbreak.

After the devastating crystelnach (the night of the broken glass) seats on the kindertransport train were in great demand as families were vying for passage to a safe haven in England for their children. The one ticket available to the Jura family was given to the middle daughter Lisa because of her potential as a classical pianist.

After being unable to live with a relative she was assigned to a beautiful county estate called Peacock Manor where she was assigned household chores. When she was denied the privilege of playing the piano and told that the piano was for show and not to be played, she returned alone to London alone and assigned to the house on Willesden Lane packed with children. A piano became her salvation and that of the adults as well as the children.

During the Blitzkrieg the museums were stripped of their art and the famous pianist Myra Hess convinced the authorities to allow her and fellow musicians to use the museums as concert halls. Every week a single masterpiece painting was hung in the hall. The music continued even during the Blitz.

Lisa’s talent was recognized and she was given an audition for a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. Golabek gives a charming description of that audition both in words and brief cords of classical music with snippets from Bach, Beethoven and Chopin.

Mona Golabek is a master at the piano both in interpretation and body language. All the interludes are played without sheet music and include Beethoven, Debussy, Chopin, Grieg, Bach Rachmaninoff and Gershwin.

Mona Golabek as Lisa Jura

Her brilliant piano interludes and quiet dialog are enriched with slide and video projections on four gilt edged frames hung above the lone piano elevated on center stage.  Lisa Jura’s resiliency, bravery and the power of music played dazzlingly by her daughter Mona Golabek is an evening not to be missed.  Just when you thought the show was over and applause erupted from the appreciative audience, many with tears in their eyes, Lisa Jura returned to the stage to give her much delayed concert debut with Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, opus 18; third movement.

Running time an unforgettable 90 minutes without intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com