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'The Pianist' is personal

One-woman show by Mona Golabek tells of mother's Holocaust experience, returning to Laguna, where play began.

June 06, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Mona Golabek stands at her Steinway and Sons piano, on stage at the Laguna Playhouse . Golabek is performing a one-woman show that centers around the piano.
Mona Golabek stands at her Steinway and Sons piano, on… (Don Leach, Coastline…)

Mona Golabek's one-woman show, "The Pianist of Willesden Lane," has earned raves in some of America's largest cities. But for the star, the play's current run at the Laguna Playhouse has a special significance.

That's because it's a return to the where the play began — miles from Los Angeles and Chicago, and unseen by all but a few.

In February 2011, Golabek, the daughter of concert pianist Lisa Jura, tested her fledgling play for an invite-only audience at the playhouse. Actor and pianist Hershey Felder was booked there at the time for a show about Leonard Bernstein, and having come on board to produce and direct Golabek's piece, he suggested that she try it out for a select crowd.

For that first show, Golabek presented her mother's story with just her voice, a piano and a few sound and visual effects to carry the evening. It was a sparer treatment than the intricate version now onstage at the playhouse, but the audience's reception told Golabek that she was onto something.

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"It's really where it was born, in many ways, on that night," said Golabek, who lives in Los Angeles and New York. "That night gave me all the affirmation I needed."

Last year, the play premiered for ticket-buyers at the Geffen Playhouse and netted Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle nominations for Solo Performance and CGI/Video Design. Next, it will head to Chicago, where it played earlier this spring, as soon as its Laguna run ends.

For Golabek, the latest production is the latest stop in a more than decade-long journey to preserve her family's history. Jura, who died in 1997, escaped from Vienna on the Kindertransport — a rescue service that diverted Jewish children to England before World War II. In 2002, her daughter co-wrote the memoir "The Children of Willesden Lane," and several years later, she workshopped a one-woman play, "Promise Me," about her relationship with her mother.

That play, written by Sybille Pearson, was produced for the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles by Ann Wareham, now the Laguna Playhouse's artistic director. Though "Promise Me" never made it to a full production, the concept resonated enough with Wareham that she gladly booked Golabek's next project in the same vein.

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