Monday, April 14, 2014

“My Mother Has Four Noses” - Intimate But Sometimes Uneven

By Judd Hollander
Photo by Sandrine Lee

The phrase "My mother has four noses" is not a play on words, a joke, parody or something with any major cosmic significance. Rather, it refers to something much more serious and all too real in Jonatha Brooke's very moving one-person show of the same name. This revelation being the starting point in Brooke's tale regarding her relationship with her mother, especially during the final two years of her mom's life.

Brooke takes great care to paint a clear picture of her mom, Nancy Lee Stone through words and pictures, thus allowing the audience to feel they know her quite well. Nancy wrote poetry, had a great sense of humor and was a devout Christian Scientist to the point she ignored a personal medical situation for nearly two decades; leading to the loss of part of her face and the introduction of the four noses in the title - one for each season of the year. Brooke pointing out that while her mother depended heavily on her faith, when there was some kind of crises "then she turned to me". Brooke also admits that her own rejection of this religion caused something of a strain in their relationship. Yet through it all there remains a deep connection between the two women, one often more of emotion than words.

Things change when Nancy starts experiencing signs of dementia. Jonatha becoming her de facto caregiver, along with the support of her husband and her husband's sister Julie. Brooke describing the painful process of beginning to lose someone she loves to a condition over which she has no control and where flashes of her mom's humor and lucidity mix with ever-increasing incidents of disorientation, rage and anger. There's also the issue of her becoming incontinent and all that that entails. Most telling of all however, is the ever-present fear Nancy starts to exhibit, such as when she refuses to take her various medications and the struggles that resulted in an effort to get her to do just that.

This is a tale that is sadly all too universal and Brooke's unhesitancy about bringing forth her own feelings in the matter allows the story to shine as she recounts the huge struggles and occasional triumphs she experienced while dealing with Nancy's condition. These include describing how Nancy starts collecting junk and giving it to family members as Christmas gifts; the pride in her voice as she reads her mom's poems; and the awe and relief she felt when it became clear that Julie was able to calm Nancy down when no one else could.

It also helps that Brooke tosses in a goodly amount of humor into the mix to leaven out the overall seriousness of her tale. Such as when her mother is trying to plan an escape in a wheelchair during a physical therapy session following knee surgery. Stories like these - which include talking about the different noses and her mom' s love of hats - also help to show more than just the pain and hardship of what was happening, thus making the entire piece much more interesting and involving.

Where things run into problems is when Brooke, who is also a singer/songwriter, injects various musical moments into the story. That's not to say the songs she performs aren't good - it's just that they're not really necessary and serve more as a distraction from the overall narrative. It's this uneven blending of styles that keep things somewhat off balance and also succeed in removing an element of immediacy from the tale. It also results in the show feeling a bit too long and taking too much time to get to its ultimate conclusion.

Jeremy B. Cohen's direction is fine as he helps Brooke, who obviously has a clear idea of the story she wants to tell, bring the proper emotional emphasis to the forefront, though Cohen is also hamstrung by the use of the musical selections, which ultimately keep the tale from delivering its maximum potential.

Also quite good are Caite Hevner Kemp's various projections, which greatly aid in creating a more fully formed image of Brooke's mom. Also deserving of mention are the efforts of the two onstage musicians, Ben Butler and Anja Wood.

My Mother Has Four Noses is a very touching and personal tale and Brooke deserves great credit for being able to talk about her experiences so clearly and expressively. However, it probably would have worked better without the various musical touches.

My Mother Has Four Noses
Written and Performed by Jonatha Brooke
Directed by Jeremy B. Cohen
Produced by Patrick Rains
Associate Producer: Pam Carter
Musical Director/Guitar: Ben Butler
Cello: Anja Wood
Orchestrations: Jonatha Brooke & Ben Butler
Set & Projection Design: Caite Hevner Kemp
Lighting Design: ML Geiger
Sound Design: Paul Mitchell
Production Stage Manager: Anne Lowrie
Musical Contractor: Antoine Silverman
General Management: The Work Room
Assistant Stage Manager: Rachael Gass
Marketing: Red Riding Marketing
Advertising: Media Bridge Advertising
Press: Susan Blond, Inc. & Coyle entertainment

The Duke on 42nd Street
229 West 42nd Street
Tickets: (646) 223-3010 or
Running Time: Two Hours, with One Intermission

Closes: May 4, 2014

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