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The Emotional Truth of Jonatha Brooke’s ‘My Mother Has 4 Noses’

| February 11, 2018 | 0 Comments

“My Mother Has 4 Noses”
Running February 10 – March 4, 2018
Jungle Theater, Minneapolis, MN

The paradox of truly great art is that the more deeply personal it is, the more universal it becomes. Well, Jonatha Brooke is a truly great artist with 30-plus years of creating musical treasures bathed in honesty. And with her more recent project she has masterfully accomplished that bared-soul connection through her one-woman musical theater piece, My Mother Has 4 Noses.

In telling the story of moving her mother—fast-sinking into the black hole of dementia—to New York in order to take care of her during the last two years of her life, Jonatha dove head-first into the deep end of vulnerability and bravely swam right to the edge of her fears, self-doubts, anger, despair, and the complicated never-ending conversation between mothers and daughters. The result is extraordinary, perceptive and profoundly important.

Gracing a minimally designed stage with only a table, chair, bookshelf, books, and a few stuffed animals, Jonatha paints a vivid picture of her mother as family photos flash on a screen behind her. Darren Stone Nelson was an eccentric with a flair for the dramatic; a published poet and lover of words; a clown … literally; and a devout practitioner of Christian Science, embracing a belief system where illness is an illusion that can be corrected by prayer alone.

Growing up in a Christian Science household provided a thread to be picked at until it unraveled for Jonatha, as she was left to deal with her mother’s health issues once they hit crisis mode. It was poetic irony for a child who left that particular religious fold to be called to step in and rescue a parent whose own ardent prayers seemed to be forsaken. One of those crises happened after 20 years of untreated cancer spread across her mother’s face until the pain finally became unbearable. Eventual surgery in the late ’90s resulted in what Jonatha described as a “maxillofacial work of art” and four prosthetic noses—one for each season.

Throughout the performance, Jonatha’s songs form a foundation and continuity that allow the story to flow seamlessly, perfectly, timelessly. Backed by cellist Rebecca Arons and guitarist Sean Driscoll, Jonatha sits at the piano and delivers gems like the introductory “Are You Getting This Down” and “My Misery,” a song that describes a martyr-like commitment and the loneliness felt: My misery doesn’t like company / I can do this by myself / I can ride the undertow / I don’t need your help. At other times she picks up her guitar and lets her trademark dissonant chords hang in the air as she speaks, as she does during the exquisite “How Far You’ll Go For Love.”

The song that is the pinnacle, though, is “Time”— a meditation delivered in a lonely spotlight with only a kalimba to accompany her. With it Jonatha marks the turning point in the story as her mother’s decline seemed to be in freefall and hospice was brought in. It’s a powerfully simple yet profound expression of not being as ready for the ending as she thought, asking for a little more time.

Darren Nelson died on January 31, 2012. In February of 2014 Jonatha opened Off-Broadway at The Duke on 42nd Street for a 10-week run of this brilliant, tender, heartfelt work of art, receiving rave reviews — and would have definitely earned a dramatic swirl of approval from her mother.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to experience the opening night of the current run of 4 Noses in Jonatha’s new hometown of Minneapolis. The funky, artsy, comfortable vibe of the 150-seat Jungle Theater was perfect for the intimacy of the performance. And even though packets of tissues were handed out before we were seated, I personally wouldn’t describe this story as sad—and Jonatha was a master at never letting a moment dip for too long or go too low before bringing us back up. Rather, I would describe it as emotional. Powerfully so. And because the story was told with such emotional truth, each audience member was able to connect in a personal way. From laughter to tears to the understanding nods that silently said, “Yeah, that … me, too.”

During the 90-minute performance Jonatha takes our hand and, at a perfect pace, walks with us through this journey of care giving that many of us are facing, in the middle of, or have lived through. She’s a gentle guide who points out the hard decisions to be made here, the heartbreaking sweet moments there, the “you’ve got to admit this is funny” parts; the courage that was there just waiting for it’s chance to shine; and the depth of love and redemption that can become visible at the end of the long slog.

But mostly Jonatha assures us that we’re not alone.

Because that’s what a truly great artist does.

—Lydia Hutchinson




Category: In Case You Haven't Heard

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