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JP Karliak and His Two Mothers

June 29, 2011

Production photos by Aaron Bendele

John Paul Karliak was put up for adoption when he was a month old, having no idea his path would take him to study drama at Catholic University, Second City Training Center, iO West, and graduate from USC’s School of Theatre. Nor could he have known a play about his adoptive and birth mothers would snatch the award for Best One Man Show at the 2010 United Solo Theatre Festival inNew York.

Curiosity overtook him five years ago and he reached out to St. Joseph’s Center, the adoption agency that handled his case in Scranton, PA, to seek his birth mother. The letter he first wrote to her, which the agency passed along, flowed easily.

She agreed to meet and the two didn’t have far to travel: both live in Los Angeles. “I always felt loved and cared for by my parents, but I always wondered about my birth mother. I thought I might find some of the missing pieces from my birth family if we met.”

In Donna/Madonna, Karliak talks about their first meeting. “She was well beyond my expectations. She looked a lot like me and shared speech patterns and gestures, so that ‘nature vs. nurture’ thing stood out to me. I walked in feeling very guarded, but I ended up vomiting details. I felt instantly comfortable.”

In 2009 Karliak was inspired to begin writing Donna/Madonna while studying with Molly Prather, a solo performance artist (Upright Citizen’s Brigade and elsewhere). “The idea had been coming in small doses for a long time. My [adoptive] mom’s an incredible person and doesn’t listen to praise easily, so I figured I could trap her in a theater for an hour.”

Today Karliak sees his birth mother as a “really fun aunt or godmother,” someone whom he believes does not regret meeting him as an adult. “We both have really wonderful lives. I didn’t tell my mom initially I was seeking her out in case it all went to hell; I was going to tell her after I met her if it went well. But my mom has this mindreading capability and asked out of the blue a few weeks before we met if I was going to look for her.”

Production photos by Aaron Bendele

Karliak’s less certain about searching out his birth father who is no longer with his birth mother. The letters he has begun to write him have been fitful, which tells Karliak the time is not right.

Somehow, he says, the show, while funny, also strikes a chord with those touched by adoption. “Inevitably, someone comes up to me and shares their connection. And I wrote this, really, as not just a tribute to my mothers but also because of the connections I’ve made.” To that end, Karliak says net proceeds from his run at Hollywood’s Lounge Theatre (July 6 – Aug. 10) will benefit Kinship Center, a California nonprofit agency dedicated to the creation, preservation and support of foster, adoptive and relative families for children who need them.

INFO: Opens Wednesday, July 6 at 8pm. Performances Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8 plus a performance on Monday, August 1 at 8pm. The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd.,  Hollywood 90038; tickets are $20 at 323-960-4420 or www.plays411.com/donnamadonna.

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