Go Deeper

Audience Response: “My Mother Has Four Noses”

Posted September 18th, 2013

JonathaBrooke4nosesI run a lot of links to press reviews on this here blog. But what’s more important than public praise, I think, is how Fringe Festival performances move us, transport us, help us think about the world, and at their best, create the world anew. As we approach our final weekend, I’d love to hear your feedback about the 2013 Fringe Festival. Email me at NickG[at]fringearts[dot]com.

First up: a woman transported back in time and out of the muck of daily life by Jonatha Brooke’s musical.

I surely can’t be the only person here who’s crying every time Jonatha Brooke sings. At first I’m horribly embarrassed, because nothing is worse than crying in public, but the lights are down and I’m able to do some discrete face-wiping and snuffling after each number. I decide to stop worrying about it. It’s been a tough week.

As I look around, and listen, during intermission, to the conversations taking place around me, I realize that whether there are actual tears or not, I’m not alone in being transported by this show. An anonymous “Wow” punctuates the last note of the last song before intermission. The man and woman sitting at the table next to mine–he’s wearing light blue suspenders over a light blue shirt, and she’s no more than a dark mass of curling hair in the dim–but I can see his arm closing around her shoulders, hugging her tight. One half of a gay couple tells the other about the time he first saw Jonatha Brooke, 19 years ago, at a coffee shop in Bethlehem. His partner replies, “I’m glad you brought me.”

And I’m remembering the one and only time before tonight when I saw Jonatha Brooke perform, 15 years ago. My best friend in college and I went to a show. We loved it, and on the way out we each bought a copy of her CD. I can still remember the shiny red pants Jonatha wore, and how much we admired them.

It was this album, “10 Cent Wings,” that my friend and I listened to all that year, over and over, after she was raped. I put the CD away after that, and rarely listened to it, even though I loved Jonatha’s devastating lyrics and gorgeous voice, perfectly her own. I would know her voice anywhere. Which is why it’s such a blow to hear it again, tonight.

My husband suggested that I might like this show–he remembered that I had once loved Jonatha Brooke. I came by myself. He had to work late, and the sitter picked up our baby girl from daycare.

The story of “My Mother Has Four Noses” is Jonatha Brooke’s mother, her decline into dementia and eventual death. I’m guessing that a lot of the middle-aged to elderly crowd here were drawn to the show by the subject. Alzheimer’s and other brain-destroying diseases are common enough to have given every person in this room that story to connect to–to want to see reflected back to them as art, given beauty and meaning, at least for 90 minutes.

Myself, I’m back in my college apartment, sitting with my friend in her sun-filled room, and weeping together, or cursing, or saying nothing, or talking of other things, like how the boys we loved were breaking our hearts. Jonatha Brooke is good listening for bad relationships, too. So the pain of that cruel time is returned to me, full force, by Jonatha’s voice. Which sound terrible, but actually isn’t all bad. I would never want to return to that time, or relive it, but to feel that pain again is a reminder also of how much I loved that friend, and of who I was then.

The show itself is a tear-jerker as well: mothers and daughters, and death, oh my. I too have a difficult relationship with my mother, whom I nonetheless love. And I now have a baby daughter. I wonder what our love will be like, over the hopefully long course of our lifetimes. Jonatha sings of the “current” between her and her mother, and I know what she means. I don’t fully understand it, but there’s something between mothers and daughters.

Sitting in a dark theater and crying, off and on, for an hour and a half doesn’t sound like much fun, but it was actually a great night, an amazing experience. I felt brought back to myself, through art and through pain, lifted out of the morass of daily junk and schedules and cleansed of all the layers that cover my essential, best self. And even though tomorrow it’ll back to work and the grind of getting things done, I’m grateful to have been given this bittersweet reminder that I am more than what I do to get through the day.

Art can do that, sometimes.

–Nadine Kavanaugh