by Lynn on November 13, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Greenwin Theatre, Meridian Arts Centre, Toronto, Ont.


Adapted and directed by Hershey Felder

Based on the book  “The Children of Willedsen Lane” by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen

Set designed by Hershey Felder and Trevor Hay

Costumes by Jaclyn Maduff

Lighting by Jason Bieber

Sound by Erik Carstensen

Projection design by Andrew Wilder and Greg Sowizdrzal

Cast: Mona Golabek

Mona Golabek has written an homage to her mother Lisa Jura, who was a child prodigy of the piano in her native Vienna, Austria until the war came and disrupted her mother’s life and that of her family.

In Vienna in 1938 Lisa Jura’s teacher could not teach her the piano anymore because she was Jewish and it was against a new law. Jura’s parents realized it wasn’t safe in Vienna so it was decided that Lisa Jura would be sent to an uncle in London, England as part of the “Kindertransport rescue operation.” She was fourteen-years-old and as she got on the train to go to London her mother told her to hold on to her music as it would be her best friend. Mother’s always know best.

When Lisa got to London her uncle met her but told her he could not take her because there was no room. Other provisions were made. They were sketchy. Lisa Jura’s story is full of incident, drama, harrowing turns of events, joy, resilience and music.

Mona Golabek is carrying on the family tradition. She is a concert pianist like her mother was. Lisa Jura taught her daughter Mona Golabek the piano and while Jura taught she told her stories of how she survived the war and after. Golabek took those stories and fashioned a book (with Lee Cohen) entitled  “The Children of Willesden Lane” honouring her mother. Hershey Felder then adapted that book for the stage and directs the show now entitled The Pianist of Willesden Lane.

 The writing is simple, poetic, evocative and quietly harrowing in depicting such a dramatic story. Mona Golabek plays her mother in The Pianist of Willesden Lane and while Ms Golabek is not a trained actor she does have grace and elegance. Her understated delivery is fine for underscoring the dramatic nature of her mother’s story. Golabek breaks up the narrative by playing various selections of music on a grand piano that informs the story. She plays the piano beautifully. Her hand and arm movements are almost balletic.

Hershey Felder’s direction on the other hand seems overly fussy. Early in the story Mona Golabek as Lisa Jura plays a classical piece for her lesson. Just Jura on the piano is all that is needed to show how talented that young girl was. Felder chooses to add a recording with a symphony background to the playing. Unnecessary and confusing. One wonders what one is listening to. Did this fourteen-year-old prodigy actually make a recording at that age? She didn’t but one sees the problem by including back ground symphony music.

Three huge gold-frames hang above the stage on which photographs on the Jura family are projected as well as news reels of the invasion of the Nazis etc.  I found it tended to be too fussy and hard to make out since the projections tended to be dark.

For the duration of the play Lisa Jura practices a piano piece by Grieg. She will play it at her debut concert she tells herself when she’s a young teen. We hear her play it in various stages of development. The story concludes with a touching piece of news just before she does in fact play her debut concert. I thought ending the show then was perfect. Instead Mona Golabek plays the whole piece as if that is the concert. I thought that was over-kill. We don’t need to hear the concert if she plays bits and pieces of the piece throughout the show. We do need to know that Lisa Jura got her wish, her piano debut at her own concert.

This is a wonderful story of Lisa Jura touchingly told and played by her daughter Mona Golabek.

The Harold Green Jewish Theatre presents:

Began: Nov. 4, 2019.

Closes: Nov. 17, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

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