“The Pianist of Willesden Lane” at 59E59 Theaters (Closed Sunday August 24, 2014)

August 1, 2014 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Based on the Book “The Children of Willesden Lane” by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen
Adapted and Directed by Hershey Felder
With Mona Golabek
Reviewed by David Roberts, Theatre Reviews Limited

“Through the way where hope is guiding,/Hark, what peaceful music rings;/Where the flock, in Thee confiding,/Drink of joy from deathless springs.” – “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” (Words by Martin Janus)

Mona Golabek’s “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” is an extraordinary Master Class in the resilience and healing of memory, the power of storytelling, and the enduring mystery of the art of the piano and its impressive repertoire. Ms. Golabek shares the inspiring story of her mother Lisa Jura using the rhetorical devices of pathos, ethos, and logos. The audience member feels for Lisa Jura from her childhood through adulthood: the audience member identifies with the marginalization Lisa experienced: the audience member understands it is not reasonable to commit genocide.

Under Hershey Felder’s exacting and sumptuous direction, Ms. Golabek portrays all of the characters in her mother’s remarkable story. She gives each character a unique identity and an authentic presence. The story has broad appeal as it traces Lisa Jura’s difficult journey from war ravaged Vienna to the United States where she marries the French freedom fighter from the Howard Hotel in London’s West End. Ms. Golabek’s remarkable skill at telling the story of her mother’s journey is matched only by her keyboard skills. She narrates and performs all or a selection from fourteen songs.

As she plays through Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata (op. 27, no. 2), Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” and “Moonlight” from “Suite bergamasque,” Chopin’s “Nocturne in B-Flat Major” (op. 9, no. 1), and Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C-Sharp Minor” (op. 3, no. 2), Mona Golabek shares the inspiring and often turbulent history of her mother’s experiences in Nazi-era Vienna and beyond. She has the remarkable ability to come in on cue to a recorded orchestra track, speak while playing, and re-enter a piece without hesitation or error.

And Ms. Golabek’s playing of the Grieg “Piano Concerto in A Minor” (op. 18, third movement) as a bonus “encore” is spellbinding and one of the finest performances of this challenging Concerto this critic has witnessed. Mona Golabek clearly remembers the advice her grandmother gave her mother Lisa when she returned from Professor Isellis’s studio in Vienna in 1938: “The secret of a beautiful chord is that the notes must never be played with equal force – the secret is the layers – the layers of beautiful sound.” Indeed, Mona Gloabek’s performance is a series of beautiful chords with layers of beautiful sound which resonates “through the way where hope is guiding.”

“The Pianist of Willesden Lane” raises a series of rich and enduring question, including: why do human beings have such difficulty understanding that human rights are universal and not matters of entitlement by gender, race, or cultural ties; why do children have to suffer as the result of the grievous errors made by adults; and why cannot humankind live in peace and harmony? Ms. Golabek addresses these and other rich questions without presumption, with pure honesty, and with a welcoming and redemptive spirit.

Given the overwhelming audience interest in this first 5A Season offering at 59E59 it would be prudent to purchase tickets to this and all future offerings. 59E59 has made a fortuitous decision to create this new season of five plays. As part of the flock who witnessed Mona Golabek fire up this season, this critic drank of joy “from deathless springs.”