The Pianist of Willesden Lane (San Diego REP)

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Where did San Diego REP find an actress who plays the piano brilliantly? Mona Golabek is amazing, and her one-woman play, The Pianist of Willesden Lane, is filled with gratitude, honor, and passion. It’s storytelling at its best as Golabek narrates part of her Jewish heritage with a grand piano in a supporting role.

The piano sits center stage with a gleam of light hitting its open lid, simply waiting to be played. The large gold picture frames that surround it soon hold projected images of film and photos. From family portraits, to bookshelves, to a train station, to footage of WWII.

Golabek plays the role of her mother, Lisa Jura, and creatively uses her voice to characterize those who were part of her mother’s upbringing. Each classical composition played is fine tuned to represent Jura’s growth and love of music. When not seated on the piano bench, Golabek moves across the stage revealing her mother’s escape on the Kindertransport, a train that transported Jewish children out of Nazi territory. Her journey ends at a hostel in London on Willesden Lane, where long lasting friendships are made and the dream of becoming a pianist is fulfilled.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane is based on the book, The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen. Adapted and directed by Hershey Felder.

Mona-Golabek

Theatre Geek and Mona Golabek.

RED (San Diego REP)

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Creating art is a unique process for each individual artist. The final masterpiece can be a migration of inspiration, reflection and temperament. RED takes the audience through the journey of Mark Rothko’s “Seagram Murals”, a series of paintings, commissioned by the beverage company, Seagram, which were to be displayed in The Four Seasons, an upscale New York restaurant.

The American abstract expressionist constantly asks, “What do you see?”  The real question should be “What to you feel?”  After all, Rothko wants the viewer to have an emotional connection to his art. To think that RED implies the color would be to make the same mistake Rothko (John Vickery) makes when his assistant, Ken (Jason Maddy), recommends red in one of the paintings. Ken frustratingly states, “I didn’t mean red paint only. I meant the emotion of red at sunrise.” As Rothko argues, “sunrise isn’t red.” The two get into a vocal spar and list red objects that evoke certain feelings: passion, atrial blood, apples, the sun in Rousseau, the albino’s eyes, nick yourself shaving, the Ruby Slippers, the Russian flag, sport cars­—the list goes on. Playwright John Logan’s creative approach of having the two actors actually paint a large canvas red on stage draws the audience in for their own art experience, giving us the opportunity to contemplate our own feelings of red.

John Vickery as Rothko in RED.

John Vickery as Rothko in RED.
(Photo by Daren Scott)

As we observe Rothko’s creative process and arrogant personality, we also witness his vulnerability when Ken explodes and berates Rothko for his attitude toward the art world. The outburst leads to a pivotal moment for Rothko and the commissioning of his murals.

This 2010 Tony award-winning play runs until April 27 at San Diego REP. It’s a fantastic play that sparks an interest in Rothko’s art and allows the audience to share in the emotional process of creating it.

Detroit (San Diego REP)

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We have all dreamt of what it would be like to have a different job, live in a different neighborhood, even a different country. Detroit (2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist) written by Lisa D’Amour examines the “What if…?” questions that we ask ourselves when feeling stuck and frustrated in our current situations.

For drifters Sharon and Kenny, living in the suburbs, even without any furniture, and being part of a community is a noble idea, so when Mary and Ben invite them over for a barbeque, Sharon is excited, yet nervous since she and Kenny have shady pasts. It’s obvious that they have something to hide, but Mary and Ben ignore the red flags, because they are working through their own martial problems, like Ben’s lack of interest in seeking employment after being laid off. As he makes claims about the Website he’s supposedly creating for his new business, uptight Mary, the sole income provider, copes with too many vodka drinks. Sharon, a drug user herself, is there to comfort Mary during her drunken frenzies, and together they plan a girls’ camping trip.

The guys do some male bonding of their own over a 12-pack of cheap beer, and right when they decide to head over to a strip club, their wives return from their camping trip that went awry. The two couples let loose (more so Mary and Ben) and heat things up with provocative dancing and breaking of patio furniture, as Mary and Ben’s house ends up in flames.

Although a comedy, Detroit is a tense play that required the actors to perform on an energy level that leaves you a bit exasperated with their preposterous ways. The entire cast did a wonderful job with their characters, especially Summer Spiro (Sharon) with her zany antics.