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My Mother Has 4 Noses
Depressing, right? Actually not.
Brooke, a slim, vibrant storyteller, creates an instant rapport with her audience at the Duke Theater, narrating the journey with powerful humor and spirit. She illustrates her feelings with original folk/country-flavored songs that she performs on acoustic guitar and piano.
Nicknamed "Boolie," Brooke reveals memories of her mother (called "Stoney") with candor and great affection.
Stoney was strong-willed, stubborn, an irrepressible drama queen whose natural theatricality spiraled up to the bizarre heights of dementia. She saw her life as an adventure and after her many outlandish outburst, she would ask, "Are you getting this down, Boolie? This is good! We should make a play out of it!" And Boolie did just that.
But four noses, what's with that? Brooke tells how years before, her mother had a small blemish near her nose. A Christian Scientist, Stoney ignored the mark, which turned out to be malignant. It eventually spread into the sinus cavities, right eye socket, hard palate and almost to her top lip, leaving her face scarred. She was given four prosthetic noses she called, "winter, spring, summer, fall." Through the years, there were other medical emergencies yet Stoney still insisted she was a devout Christian Scientist. Until there was a crisis.
Most harrowing to watch, yet with impossibly funny anecdotes, was her mother's dementia. The disentangling of Stoney's mind caused havoc in both their lives. Dementia's one advantage, Brooke points out, is complete presence in the moment. "I could only marvel at her audacity... and her loneliness... and this strange disease taking over her brain."
While Brooke's recounts the steps of the illness it is her complex music that highlights the emotion with poetic candor. Singing "Time," she plays the kalimba, acknowledging her mother's approaching death — but pleading, "Please don't come today, tomorrow's not good either 'cause I know it'll mean forever."
The women's connection helped as they shared the crazy unbearable moments. Brooke was forced to struggle with decisions that would affect her personal life and career, yet these conflicts built her own strength and self-confidence. She battled exhaustion with an unbelievably cheerful irony.
What is most poignant is the love in this story. Jonatha Brooke did not take on the care of her mother because of a sense of duty or tradition, or responsibility. In one song she questions, "What Was I Thinking?" knowing it would be she who would "clean the cages." Yet she admired, respected and loved her mother fiercely.
Caite Hevner Kemp designed an uncomplicated setting. On one side is Stoney's chair and table holding a lamp, poems, a Christian Science Bible, some stuffed animals, a case holding her four noses and Chanel No. 5. On the other side of the stage sits a piano. Personal photos and titles are projected on a back screen and Ben Butler on electric guitar and Anja Wood on cello provide Brooke's harmonic backup.
Directed by Jeremy B. Cohen, the sparseness of the set is enlivened by Jonatha Brooke's energy with graceful and expressive physical movements, her emotions floating across the stage into the audience with laughter and tears.