John Paul Karliak is Donna/Madonna – a Story of Self

by on December 7th, 2014
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He’s a one-man act on stage, but far from a solitary guy in real life. John Paul Karliak – “JP” to his friends – has hit the Hollywood and New York theater stage with an award-winning performance that has caught people’s attention everywhere – including the critics.

After a successful run of his self-penned, one-act play Donna/Madonna, Karliak shot across country for multiple performances in New York City. Now, he’s heading back to the west coast for more showings in San Francisco and – I’m sure – plenty of other venues to come.

The play is autobiographical about his life experiences as an adopted child, and Karliak says it’s “99.9 percent true.”

“I started writing it two years ago about my experience with adoption,” he said in a telephone interview last month. “It focuses on my adoptive mom.”

John Paul Karliak grew up in Scranton, where he was adopted as a baby. He attended college in Washington D.C. for two years before moving to Los Angeles and completing his degree at the University of Southern California.

“I wanted to be more in an entertainment capital,” he said about his decision to head west. Hollywood was the logical choice.

While Donna/Madonna tells the story of his adoptive mother, Karliak did come to know – and eventually meet — his birth mother about six years ago.

“She is almost a polar opposite of my adoptive mom,” he said. They continue to enjoy a special relationship that is growing.

The experience of meeting his birth mother was “strange, wonderful, exciting,” he recalled and “represented all the facets of nature versus nurture.”

Life experiences were the central motivation for the script he ultimately penned over the course of several months.

“It focuses on my mom and her strength and tenacity,” he said. “There are wonderful qualities and bravery that I attribute to my birth mother as well.”

The play completed its Los Angeles run in August, but not before Karliak’s birth mother was able to attend a performance.

“She was very happy with it,” he said. “It was wonderful.”

In his spare time, Karliak starys busy with other projects. He recently completed shooting an episode of “Ringer” for the CW network, starring Sarah Michelle Geller which will air this fall.

“That’s my first professional television gig,” he said. He also does theater and voice over work to keep busy and pay the bills.

But Donna/Madonna is a major focus of his time and attention, and earned him the coveted 2010 United Solo Theatre Festival Best One Man Show Award.

“I workshopped it last fall as a tribute to my mother,” he said. “A lot of people came up to me with their own adoption stories.” Nearly every show will bring one or more people forward to tell him how they were impacted by adoption. Donna/Madonna is a release for them.

The outpouring of support from fellow adoptees led Karliak to associate with Kinship Center, a non-profit agency with locations throughout central and southern California. Their mission is to put and keep families together – something Karliak says is important to him.

“Their care is so complete,” he said. Kinship Center provides mental health care and family counseling to supporting extending families. A portion of the ticket sales to each of his show appearances goes to support the organization.

“I feel that by promoting the family care they offer, I’m telling my mom ‘I love you’ in a whole new way,” Karliak wrote in an autobiographical article about the show.

That love is undeniable.

“She is an incredibly powerful, strong, nurturing woman,” he said at the end of our interview. “I wouldn’t be here without her.”

For JP’s mother, the ultimate compliment came with his closing words.

“My mom is my hero.”

What a great person to be inspired by.

Donna/Madonna continues to appear on selected stages. For more information, visit www.donnamadonna.com.


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