American concert pianist Mona Golabek hails from a line of gifted musicians beginning with her grandmother. Mona is onstage at Portland Center Stage telling her family story, and the story of her mother, Lisa Jura, in the one-woman show The Pianist of Willesden Lane. The play runs through May 1 on the main stage at Gerding Theatre.
In 1938 a program called Kindertransport was created to evacuate 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children into Britain. The writing was on the wall. Nazi Germany was not a safe place for Jews. The children were lodged with families, many of whom took them on to put them to work in the home or on the farm. Others were kept in hostels in the cities. The plan was to reunite them with their families once the trouble in Europe was over. For most of these refugees, that never happened.
One of the Kindertransport children was Lisa Jura, Golabek’s mother. A child prodigy pianist, taught first by her mother and then by Vienna’s best piano teacher, Lisa was just 14 when she left for Britain. Once there, she lived first in a foster home, and then in a hostel in London, where she helped support herself working menial jobs. Lisa was the lucky one. Her family chose her to be the one to go to Britain while her parents and two sisters stayed behind.
The telling of Lisa Jura’s remarkable and romantic life story began in 2002 when Golabek released a book she co-wrote with Lee Cohen entitled The Children of Willesden Lane. Later the story was turned into a one-woman show, The Pianist of Willesden Lane, adapted and directed by Hershey Felder. The show stars Mona Golabek–the best possible person to narrate her mother’s story and show her mastery of some of the signature classical pieces her mother loved and played.
Alone on that stage, Golabek is just incredible. Story and music unfold flawlessly set against a backdrop of large gilt frames where photographs of Lisa Jura’s parents and two sisters are alternated with dramatic scenes from World War II Europe and Britain, including the London hostel where Lisa lived during the war.
The combination of Golabek’s musicianship plus a great story add up to an unforgettable evening of theatre!