Review | My Mother Has 4 Noses: brilliant music, difficult subject matter charmingly rendered

At the Jungle Theatre, through March 4

Jonatha Brooke in MY MOTHER HAS 4 NOSES. Photo by Dan Norman.

Let’s get this out of the way right off ye olde bat: My Mother Has 4 Noses (at the Jungle, through March 4) is not really a play. It’s a story. Relentlessly past tense. The teller – the charming and uber-talented Jonatha Brooke (also our writer) – recounts the tale of her beloved mother Stoney’s inexorable descent into the trackless wilderness of dementia. Brooke also performs original songs, brilliantly, accompanying herself on electric piano and acoustic guitar. My Mother Has 4 Noses is a musical slash storytelling tour de force.

Jeremy B. Cohen directs with taste and restraint.

Dementia, along with its sister (brother?) disease Alzheimer’s, is one of the scourges of our age. As lifespans expand, these memory diseases will become more and more prevalent. They loom in our future. Perhaps we will, like Brooke, be forced to deal with the disease of a loved one. Or perhaps we ourselves will be stricken. There is, as of yet, no cure and hardly any effective treatment. We should actively support the researchers trying to find a way out of this labyrinth.

My Mother Has 4 Noses paints a vivid and loving picture of Stoney: poet, clown, collector of knick-knacks, faithful (for the most part) adherent of Christian Science, who faces her deterioration with courage and humor. I scribbled in my grubby critic’s notebook, at one point: “The deeper Stoney descends into her dementia, the cutesyer becomes the performance.” But at the end I realized that Brooke’s cutesyness was a defense, a way of warding off the emotional intensity of the story. The portrait of Stoney’s death is wrenching. Lovely.

My Mother Has 4 Noses, like Ishmael (the most recently produced Jungle play) uses music to intensify the drama of the spoken material. Two excellent musicians – Rebecca Arons (cello) and Sean Driscoll (guitar) provide boffo underscoring.

And then there are Brooke’s songs. Wowdow. This woman has chops. Who cares if there is a certain sameness to the songs (lots of descending guitar bass), this material is gorgeously rendered. The songs are perfectly placed – not too many – and I suspect Cohen has a lot to do with this.

Recommended, if you don’t mind past-tenseness and grim subject matter.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. Please visit his informational website.


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