Dallas — The sparse staging in the Wyly Theatre on Wednesday evening left to the performance itself all the responsibility of communicating a place and time. Mona Golabek, pianist and storyteller, successfully filled the space with all the drama and atmosphere necessary to provide a moving performance of the stage adaption of The Children of Willesden Lane, a book by Golabek and Lee Cohen. The book details the true story of Golabek’s mother, Lisa Jura, as a young Jewish girl separated from her family during the time of the Nazi occupation of Austria.
A unique blend of storytelling, acting, and musical performance, Golabek utilized only a chair, projection screen, and a concert grand piano. This was all she needed. Often speaking even while playing the piano, her effortless blending of monologue and music was as emotionally effective as it was impressive.
The main protagonist was immediately embodied by an informal style of storytelling that shifted from literal to figurative and back, using piano music sometimes as part of the character’s actions and sometimes as emotional reinforcement for the drama. We are told about the girl, innocent and naïve, as she is placed on train which took her away from her family and beloved Vienna as part of the Kindertransport operation which rescued 10,000 children, mostly Jewish, from the Nazis. Chosen by her father because of her musical talent, she is given escape from the terrors her family would face for the loneliness and challenges of adolescence in war-torn London.
Time after time, from a painful separation from her piano teacher to her only refuge in a dormitory home in London being destroyed by a Nazi bomb, we are reminded of the strength that a love for music can give. The impermeable determination of this young girl was expressed through the music Golabek performed. Although mostly excerpts of pieces were played, the occasional full performance of a work revealed a serious pianist with a real sensitivity to the pointed context of each piece of music. Debussy’s Clair de Lune was played while images were projected above the stage brought us back to that difficult time. The effect was evocative and heartbreaking. Other works by Beethoven, Chopin, and Scriabin were also weaved into the action.
The story culminated in the Lisa’s acceptance to London’s Royal Academy of Music and subsequent concerto performance debut with the Grieg Piano Concerto. Although we were left to imagine the worst for most of her family, the character which emerges at the end is strong, feminine, and indomitable. Golabek brought us to this person through a remarkable array of characters and developing personalities. Never once dropping our attention, this touching performance demonstrated that music as its own character has much to say about the journey of humanity, even in its darkest times.
» Read our interview with Golabek here