Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
First things first, that peculiar title. Why did Jonatha's mom have four noses? They were prosthetic noses, replacements for the nose she lost, along with much of her face to remove horrendous tumors that had virtually spread from ear to ear. Why did the tumors get so bad before being removed? Jonatha's mom was a devout Christian Scientist, believers that humans are spiritual, not material, beings and therefore disease and bodily pain are not real, but are illusions to be cast out by prayer. However, after twenty years of spreading, she succumbed to surgery, losing her nose in the process. But she never abandoned her Christian Science devotion. Since she traveled from her home in Maine to the west coast for the surgery, she referred to that experience as her "California dream time," as if it never really happened.
Yes, Jonatha's mom was a characterand a published poet, and a clown. The latter does not mean she joked around (though she did), but she actually took classes on clowning, sometimes showing up in the neighborhood in clown make-up, wig and costume. She found great humor in her four noses, taking photos of them lined up on a baking sheet, like so many scones. It was probably hard for Jonatha's family to tell when her mom slipped into dementia, because in some ways she was always detached from reality. But she knew that she was detached, and that her perspectives were unique. She regularly would say to Jonatha, whom she had given the nickname Boolie, "Boolie, that's good, did you get that down? We can make it a play, it can be on Broadway!" Jonatha indeed did get it all down, and while it's far too quiet and intimate an affair for Broadway, it fits perfectly in the cozy Jungle.
Brooke begins with some background on her mother's childhood and younger years, jumps quickly to her adult life, replete with an odd mix of dramatic eccentricity and blind devotion to her Christian Science faith. After Brooke's father died and her mother began to decline, she lived, for a period, in a residence for Christian Scientists with ailments or disabilities, though they denied the presence of those conditions. With no possibility of any intervention to address her mother's growing health problems, Jonatha moved her mother to an apartment in her building in New York City, and became her primary caretaker for the last two years of her mother's life. The monologues, and songs that illuminate them, become increasingly fraught with pain and sadness, though throughout, maintain a chord of humor, the great tonic that helps us through the hardest of times.
As a singer-songwriter, Brooke has long demonstrated a gorgeous soprano that can be clear as a bell or mournfully throaty, expressing a vast range of feeling. What could not have been known is that she has the same marvelous range of expression as a storyteller, bringing her mother to life, and recreating for her rapt audience, every feeling she had toward her mother. Though they run the gamutBrooke is disarmingly humanthe overriding feeling is love. Brooke has no qualms about describing her mother's strange ways (such as her obsession with the movie The Red Shoes), or her frustration with her mother's unwillingness to give up on Christian Science even when the evidence was that her pain and disease were real. She bluntly describes the hard work that went into caring for her mother, including an extended segment on poop management. Nonetheless, this is never one of those programs where adult children take the stage to bewail the burdens placed upon them by insensitive or uncomprehending parents. It is, from start to finish, an unvarnished love letter from a daughter to her mother.
Brooke accompanies herself on guitar and piano, and for the heartbreaking song "Time," on an mbira, with understated musical embellishment provided by Rebecca Arons on cello and Sean Driscoll on guitar (Joe Elliot replaces Driscoll for the last two weeks of the run). The sound quality (Paul Mitchell, sound design and engineer) is exquisite, giving both vocals and instrumentals a crystalline purity. Brooke appears in a simple costume of jeans, a trim-fitting long sleeve paisley T-shirt, and sneakers, appearing like anyone we might spy sipping a latte at Starbucks or browsing the stacks at the public library. Jeremy B. Cohen has worked with Brookes as director of My Mother has 4 Noses from its inception, and it is hard to discern where his contributions begin, as we feel like we are watching Jonatha Brooke comfortably being herself. But one suspects that he played a big role in keeping the through narrative focused and finding just the points for emphasis.
Running an hour and forty-five minutes (including a fifteen minute intermission), this may not be a show for everyone's taste. It is quiet, deeply personal, and lacks what some might call "action." What we have instead is partnership with an artist who bares her heart and unleashes her wit to share with us this remarkable woman, this mother with four noses, who made her life uniquely her own, and enables us to feel the strength of love that bound that mother and her daughter together. It leaves us with a beautiful feeling, a gift Jonatha Brooke gives her audience in this very special musical theater work.
My Mother Has 4 Noses, through March 4, 2018, at the Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Avenue S., Minneapolis MN. Tickets are $30.00 - $45.00. Seniors (60+) and students, through undergraduates, $5.00 discount. $25.00 public rush and $20.00 student rush (1 ticket with ID), for unsold seats two hours before performance at box office. For tickets call 612- 822-7073 or go to www.jungletheater.com.
Writer: Jonatha Brooke; Director: Jeremy B. Cohen; Set and Costume Design: Sarah Bahr; Lighting Design: Bill Healey; Sound Design and Engineer: Paul Mitchell; Projection Design: Phillip O'Toole; Stage Manager: John Novak; Technical Director: Leazah Behren; Production Manager: Matthew Early.
Cast: Jonatha Brooke (herself)
Band: Rebecca Arons (cello), Sean Driscoll (guitar, February 10 - 18), Joe Elliott (guitar, February 20 - March 4).