By Eric J. Grimm
Winsome Brown’s one-woman show, This is Mary Brown, is a candid view of the performer’s mother, bravely presented in the intimate black box first floor theater at La MaMa. Brown’s mother is the kind of complicated character that has become the hallmark of modern theater and Brown’s portrayal is unflinchingly honest even as she displays her love and respect for her subject. While many of the comedic scenes have a “you had to be there” feel to them, Brown’s deep commitment to her mother’s story is undeniably sincere.
Brown chronicles events from her own childhood to her mother’s death, detailing her mother’s fiery personality and her struggle with alcohol addiction. Mary cracks inappropriate jokes throughout and though she is fond of her children, she is not always attentive, with her focus on her guests or her drinks. This is evident in Brown’s deep-voiced characterization, which connotes a general indifference and hints at years of smoking cigarettes. Though Mary is often unlikable, Brown plays her interactions squarely for laughs while her struggles are played for tears. I didn’t find many of Mary’s quips funny, but the full audience responded well to her abrasive nature.
Brown’s characterization of her mother is strong and distinct, while other characters tend to blend together with a similar vocal quality. Brown doesn’t change her physicality or give the other characters mannerisms. Some fluid physical shifts or perhaps some paring down of characters would have made scenes with multiple characters easier to understand and more compelling. Ultimately, Brown’s willingness to lay bare her mother’s struggles is admirable and her voice both as narrator and lead character carries a dramatic heft that propels her personal narrative.
This is Mary Brown is playing at La MaMa (74A E. 4th St.) through June 28. For tickets visit http://lamama.org/this-is-mary-brown/.