Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Pianist of Willesden Lane—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

Soothing the Savage Beast

This very personal, true story features Mona Golabek and is based on her book, “The Children of Willesden Lane,” by Golabek and Lee Cohen.  It is adapted for the stage and directed by Hershey Felder.  This one-person show is playing at PCS, 128 NW 11th Ave., through May 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org or call 503-445-3700.

It is said that “music soothes the savage beast” and I believe that it not only does that, but is the art form that is closest to evoking emotional response from people.  Look how effective it is in films to set moods for an audience.  It is said music was often played on the sets of Silent movies to get actors into the proper frame of mind for a scene.

In this production, we not only have music, mostly classical, as a mood-enhancer, but it is intertwined and essential to the story being told, as the storyteller’s mother, Lisa Jura, a classical pianist, is being portrayed by her real-life daughter.  It may be in memories and words that we continue to live but music is the voice of the soul.

In the late 1930’s, Germany, in particular, was becoming a hell-hole for the people of the Jewish faith to live because of the Nazi reign.  Curiously, Vienna, where her family was from, was called, perhaps prophetically for her, the “City of Dreams.”  Lisa, one of three daughters, was being trained by her mother to become a pianist.  But it is soon evident that the Nazi’s were cracking down on any Jewish education and businesses, making it difficult for her father, a tailor, to continue to support his family.  When a stroke of luck offers them one ticket for a child on the Kindertransport to England, Lisa is chosen to the benefactor of this wondrous gift.

This program enabled around 10,000 Jewish children from Germany to be transported to England to be taken in and raised by families until the war was over.  Internationally, some sort of refugee program for them to other countries was proposed and rejected by 32 nations, including the United States.  But, God bless England, she rose to the cause and many Jewish families survive today because of their generosity and humanity.

As a young girl, Lisa was ushered from one family as a servant, to working on an assembly line.  But she always managed to find a piano, as she felt that was her calling.  Eventually, she found a home, like so many other refugee children, at Willesden Lane and discovered a benefactor who allowed her to continue to develop as a pianist.  Even through the destruction from bombings, Lisa played on.  She even entertained soldiers in music halls and finally had an opportunity to possibly be part of the Royal Academy of Music.  But the outcome of this story, dear reader, you’ll have to see, and hear, for yourself.

By coming to experience this show, will you learn anything new about the millions of stories already out there about the shattered dreams and renewed hopes of a whole nation of people?  Yes, I think you will.  Partly because it is told in a storytelling fashion, possibly the purist form of telling stories, so it becomes one-on-one as a personal bridge between storyteller and receiver.  Also, as mentioned above, it has music to gently, but dramatically, guide you on this coupled journey of memories, emotions and history.  And, since it is personal for the teller, one cannot say that it is just a performer enacting a part.  It is a human being sharing their very private story with you, so one should feel honored to be invited along this path to healing.  Finally, because of all of the above, it is a lesson for us to heed so that never again, perhaps, will we allow such atrocities to happen!

Golabek is inspiring, enchanting and empowering in her presentation!  She is bravely humble in her verbal relating of this epic tale but powerfully persuasive and driven in the musical landscape in which she resides.  By the end of her presentation I, and my frequent companion to plays, Deanna, a musical talent in her own right, were easily moved to tears.  And I’m sure both of us were changed by this experience.  Golabek had a well-deserved, standing ovation by the end.

Felder has kept the setting simple, but wide-spread in scope, as the ‘”portraits” of past events was a powerful tool to keeping us rooted to the period.  When all is said and done, what words cannot express, music can!

I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.