Acclaimed pianist, Mona Golabek, riveted audiences last night with a very personal story of heartbreak and triumph in “The Pianist of Willesden Lane.”
The story follows the struggles and triumphs of young Jewish pianist, Lisa Jura, whose life is abruptly turned upside down by the encroaching war. Of three daughters, Lisa is chosen by her parents to go to England via the kindertransport. Separated from everything and everyone she knows and loves, Lisa takes refuge in the transcendent medium of music and touches lives with her art. Mona Golabek, Lisa Jura’s daughter, channels her mother’s inspiring perseverance through some of history’s darkest times with her sincere narration and poignant playing.
The entirety of this intricate story is unraveled by a very small, but effective cast: Mona Golabek and the piano. The aptly chosen musical masterpieces woven into the drama speak just as loudly as the words. Golabek wielded the instrument with clarity and passion, thereby bringing a new dimension to Lisa’s story and giving voice to the emotions that eluded words. She re-imagined the familiar works of Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, and many others to flow with her spoken phrases, accompany the sounds of raging war, or take center stage and emote her cascading emotions. The music cadenced as she closed a thought and surged, dynamically with her turbulent emotions. That being said, Golabek knew exactly when to take advantage of silence, as well, and did not allow the audience to become lost in the tumult of the war.
As an actress Golabek was articulate and versatile, but her most expressive moments were always at the piano. She tells the story from the first-person perspective of Lisa Jura, but takes on an array of personalities. Two of her most memorable portrayals were those of Lisa’s desperate parents, who are forced into the awful position of choosing only 1 of 3 children to send out of Vienna.
As a concert pianist, author of the book “The Children of Willesden Lane,” and actress, Mona Golabek is truly a woman of extraordinary talent. As Lisa Jura’s daughter, Golabek brought a very palpable sensitivity to this timeless and inspiring story, as well as the music. It is a rare privilege and an exquisite opportunity to see somebody so close to the story bring it so vividly to life.
“The Pianist of Willesden Lane” runs through Dec. 16th at The Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre at the Paramount Center. For more information visit https://artsemerson.org/.