“My Mother Has 4 Noses” at The Duke (Closed Sunday May 4, 2014)

February 23, 2014 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Written and Performed by Jonatha Brooke
Directed by Jeremy B. Cohen
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Despite the early protestation of playwright Jonatha Brooke, the aft end of the title of her “My Mother Has 4 Noses” is a trope; indeed, ‘4 noses’ is a well-developed and quite brilliant extended metaphor for not only the four seasons of the life of Brooke’s mother Darren Stone (“Stoney”) Nelson; the short phrase is also a metaphor for Stoney’s self-constructed surreal prosthetic devices designed and worn throughout the clown-poet’s life to cover and disguise the deep scars and deformity resulting from her sense of orphancy, her deep-seated depression, her deeply-entrenched bereavement, and the deep scars left by her often irrational faith in the tenets of Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science “magical thinking” – magical thinking which ultimately failed to transform her life into an abundant life and, indeed, was a contributing factor to her death.

Touted as a tribute to the indefatigable Ms. Nelson, “My Mother Has 4 Noses” is more accurately a tribute to the important victory of reason over magical thinking. It was faith-based magical thinking that motivated Stoney Nelson to ignore the unmistakable early signs of cancer. That untreated aggressive cancer and her decline into dementia ended Ms. Nelson’s otherwise energetic, gracious, and gloriously grandiose life. How dare faith do that to a wonderful human being? Fortunately, Stoney’s daughter Jonatha was by her side chronicling the upside and the downside, the joy and the sorrow of Ms. Nelson’s final journey and celebrating Stoney’s “complete presence in the moment” that characterized the best of those times with Jonatha Brooke.

The musical drama is also a fitting tribute to Jonatha Brooke who, despite her mother’s undaunted faith, insisted on the importance of rational (as opposed to delusional) thinking. It was Ms. Brooke’s fortunate departure from the “faith-speak” (“mental malpractice’) of Christian Science, that permitted her to seek medical help for her mother’s cancer, and later, her dementia. Indeed, “My Mother Has 4 Noses” is more about Ms. Brooke than about her mother. It is clear that Ms. Brooke has chosen to return to the unresolved “stages” of bereavement and her performance aptly gives her the opportunity to detach herself from guilt and grief and celebrate that death has come for her mother and her mother would celebrate her daughter’s forward movement into complete and unconditional acceptance. Only then will this charming musical drama become a tribute to the irrepressible Darren Stone Nelson.

Kudos to Ben Butler and Anja Wood whose guitar and cello (respectively) underscore Ms. Brooke’s persuasive narration and her ten musical numbers which punctuate her story-telling and her journey to knowing who, on the other side of the wall, truly loves her and always will.