By: Susan Hasho
Jonatha Brooke is a singer/songwriter. I first heard of her when I fell in love with her album The Story: Angel in the House. At the time, she was partners with Jennifer Kimball, and the song Angel in the House totally captured me. The partnership ended and Jonatha Brooke successfully moved on to write and produce many more songs. Now she has brought her one woman show My Mother Has Four Noses (A Mother/Daughter, End-of-Life Love Story…Complicated By Religion and Dementia) to New York City. Ms. Brooke is a unique and singularly gifted artist. To have written a show about her mother’s dying, to bring her work to such an intimate and traumatic event—the disturbing death of her mother—takes a particular kind of courage. Her mother was a poet, a clown and an avid Christian Scientist. A sign of her loyalty to her religion and the insanity of it, one might say, is that she chose earlier in her life to allow cancer to spread over her face without medical intervention until among other things she had no nose. Eventually she agreed to surgery, but as a result of her condition, she had four different prosthetic noses—and a still constant unwavering love of her religion.
Eccentricity is not unusual, but in this mother/daughter story, it is mixed with incredible love and compassion.
The script is a chronological description of the experience of dealing with her mother’s last two years of life. The dementia, the spiritual and the practical details are all expressed in a charming but somewhat stalwart manner. The songs are the moments when Jonatha Brooke, not just the daughter but the lifelong singer/songwriter, reveals her emotions; and the songs are beautiful and riveting. As a whole, the play seems separate in style and feeling from the music. It could be because Ms. Brooke is not as strong an actress as she is a singer. It could be because in order to relive such an experience onstage a mask of separation from the audience was needed. But the effect was that we, as the audience, were kept at arms’ distance by Ms. Brooke’s smile and her game depiction of soldiering on—and then relieved by the haunting immediacy of her singing voice.
But these lyrics from the song in the show called How Far You’d Go for Love say the most about the value of this production and its ambitious subject—“No one knows how far you’ve fallen underneath the spell. You’re all alone and no one’s calling. But it’s just as well. You would never tell how far you’d go for love; you never know how far you’d go for love until you go far beyond what you have ever known of love for love.”
The orchestrations by Jonatha Brooke (guitar) and Ben Butler (guitar) are lush and beautiful; and with Anja Wood on cello completing the musical ensemble, the music is stunningly performed.
My Mother Has Four Noses: written and performed by Jonatha Brooke and directed by Jeremy B. Cohen at The Duke on 42nd Street. A limited-run through Sunday, May 4th. Tickets, priced at $70.00, are on sale now by calling The Duke on 42nd Street’s Ticket Services at 646-223-3010 or online at www.dukeon42.org/Shows/2014/4Noses.aspx