San Diego Repertory Theatre's 39th season is off to a promising start. Mona Golabek's one-woman show, The Pianist of Willesden Lane, is a daughter's moving tribute to her mother, told in gentle narrative and with the timeless music of Beethoven, Chopin, Grieg and other classical masters.
So intimate is Golabek's telling of her mother's courageous story that the Rep's use of screen projections and taped orchestral accompaniment are really unnecessary. Golabek and her stately Steinway grand piano alone would suffice. The stillness in the audience when she plays is a testament to the power of this personal remembrance.
In this one-act production based on her and Lee Cohen's book The Children of Willesden Lane and adapted and directed by Hershey Felder, Golabek portrays her mother, Lisa Jura. As a young Jewish girl living in Vienna in 1938, Lisa, encouraged and inspired by her own mother, dreamed of becoming a concert pianist. To pursue that dream in the face of the Nazi regime, she was sent away to London by her family aboard the Kindertransport, a children's rescue train. How Lisa survived and realized her dream is the tale Golabek tells in elegant music and words.
It shouldn't be lost amid Golabek's supple musicianship and the potency of her writing that she's able to inhabit this family story so fully night after night. The Pianist of Willesden Lane premiered in Los Angeles two years ago and has been produced on both coasts, including off Broadway, yet it feels as if Golabek is performing it for the first time. Neither the storytelling nor the music CAROL ROSEGG seems rushed or rehearsed. The stamina and emotional constitution to pull off this work time and again must be acknowledged.
The Lyceum Space is the precise size for this show, and the acoustics allow both Golabek's soft voice and her piano playing to fill the room.
Without being traditional theater, The Pianist of Willesden Lane is a complete theatrical experience in that its real-life characters, each played by Golabek, and its drama are magnified in the stage lights. So is one woman's story and that of many, many others that should never be forgotten.
The Pianist of Willesden Lane runs through Sept. 28 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. $31 to $47. sdrep.org
A Song at Twilight : This is a staged reading of Noël Coward's play about an aging writer who's suddenly visited by a former lover who dredges up an old secret. It happens Sept. 15 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Bright Star : A world-premiere musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell about a soldier who returns home to North Carolina from World War II, hooks up with a literary-journal editor and, with her, discovers a life-changing secret. Opens Sept. 13 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Catch Me If You Can : A musical version of the 2002 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, about a young con man and the FBI agent who pursues him. Opens Sept. 10 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. moonlightstage.com
Corpse! : In London in 1936, a woman plots with a man to murder his wealthy twin brother. Opens Sept. 12 at PowPAC in Poway. powpac.org
I am My Own Wife : One person takes on 35 roles in an award-winning play about Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a transgendered German antiquities collector whose early life was lived during the Third Reich. Presented by The New Group West, it opens Sept. 11 at 10th Avenue Arts Center in East Village.
The Odd Couple : The classic comedy goes Latino, courtesy of Paul Rodriguez and Mike Gomez. Presented by Teatro Máscara Mágica, it opens Sept. 11 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. teatromascaramagica.org
Passage into Fear : It's 1917 and a woman claiming knowledge of a plot with international ramifications goes missing on a passenger train. Presented by Art Animates Life and the San Marcos Historical Society, it runs Sept. 12 through 21 in Connors Hall at Heritage Park in San Marcos. carrfamily.com/aal
Race : In David Mamet's play, a white businessman is accused of raping a black woman, and his law firm turns to a black, female attorney for guidance. Presented by Different Stages, it opens Sept. 13 at Swedenborg Hall in University Heights. differentstages.biz
Red Planet Respite : In this original sci-fi farce, it's 2044 and a crew is heading to Mars to prepare a luxury resort. On the way there, things get weird. Presented by Circle Circle Dot Dot, it opens Sept. 12 at La Jolla Playhouse. circle2dot2.com
Shaken Not Stirred : A plain librarian's world is rocked when two men in black move in next door. Opens Sept. 12 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
This Wide Night : Two women, former cellmates, have been released from prison and now must navigate a challenging life of freedom in London. Presented by Ion Theatre Company, it opens Sept. 13 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
God of Carnage : When two boys get into a fight, their parents get together to calmly discuss what to do about it, but the discussion ends up being anything but calm. Through Sept. 13 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
The Two Gentlemen of Verona : Two friends leave Verona for Milan, where, natch, they get caught up in a love—er, rectangle? Through Sept. 14 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Dearly Beloved : A trio of Texas sisters plan a wedding. Will it be Antebellum-themed? Will it be a big ol' barbecue? Will it go off at all? Through Sept. 21 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
Legends (in ten minutes or less) : The cast in this evening of seven very short plays includes CityBeat editor David Rolland, and dessert is included in the ticket price. Presented by New Play Café, it runs through Sept. 21 on the back patio of DeMi Café Café in University Heights. newplaycafe.com
Regrets Only : A knee-slapping comedy about a gay fashion designer who challenges a straight acquaintance who happens to be advising President Bush on the ban on gay marriage. Through Sept. 21 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
Fallen Angels : In Noël Coward's 1925 farce, two women stuck in boring marriages anticipate the impending arrival of a passionate man whom both dated before they were married. Through Sept. 28 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Les Miserables : In this classic musical, a poor Frenchman spends 19 years in prison after stealing a loaf of bread, only to escape and get caught up in a revolution under an assumed identity. Through Sept. 28 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
Our Town : Thornton Wilder's classic story about life and death in the fictional town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. Through Sept. 28 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.org
The Pianist of Willesden Lane : Actor and pianist Mona Golabek tells the story of a 14-year-old music prodigy whose promising career is imperiled by war in Europe in 1938. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it runs through Sept. 28 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
Kingdom City : A world-premiere play about a New York theater director who stirs things up in a small, conservative Missouri town when she directs a high-school production of The Crucible . Through Oct. 5 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.com
Postmortem : It's 1922, and an actor famous for playing Sherlock Holmes has reassembled a group of people who were present a year earlier when someone allegedly committed suicide. Presented by Scripps Ranch Theatre, it runs through Oct. 5 at the Legler Benbough Theatre in Scripps Ranch. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Crime Pays : A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net