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Jonatha Brooke gets it down

photo 1 Jonatha Brooke is a gifted singer-songwriter. On our last night in New York yesterday, we took a family group to see Jonatha’s one-woman musical My Mother Has Four Noses, now playing at the Duke Theater on 42nd Street.

It is an intensely personal and intimate show, ripped from the past few years of Brooke’s life. Brooke wrote the show’s book, the words and the music. You want to connect with her after the show, and she hangs around to let the audience do so. The photo at the right is of Jonatha and me after the show. She also introduced me to her husband, Patrick Rains, originally from Minneapolis and the man she credits with insisting that they bring her mother to New York to care for her (and thus the genesis of the show).

The show pays tribute to Brooke’s mother, Darren Stone Nelson, while it recounts Brooke’s (and her husband’s and her sister-in-law’s) care for her over the final two years of her life. Brooke developed the show in part in Minneapolis and performed it at the Guthrie Theater this past December, but I learned about it from the New York Times review “A daughter’s loyalty shines through song” when the show opened on Broadway in February. The review captures the show perfectly. The Times’s Jane Gross describes the show in detail in “Music born of magical thinking.”

The show is filled with love and anger that emerge in the spirit of jaunty grief. The anger is directed at Christian Science, of which Mrs. Nelson was a practitioner through most of her life. Brooke’s love and respect for her mother are manifest throughout, though her mother’s ordeal is depicted in unsparing detail. Indeed, the show is in great part a demonstration of how to love. It deserves a wide audience and I urge readers who wouldn’t be offended by the hostility to Christian Science to see it before it closes next month.

Brooke’s mom was a writer. The show makes clear that Jonatha is her mother’s daughter. In the show’s first song — “Are You Getting This Down?” (video below) — Brooke conveys her mother’s encouragement to memorialize their experiences in her work. The last song of the show sets one of her mother’s poems to music. It is a killer.

I absolutely loved the show. It is a tremendously moving and thought-provoking affair. I would like to spread the word while the show can still be seen. I want to add only that I’ve been enjoying Jonatha’s compact disc with the show’s songs steadily over the past month. The CD stands on its own as a beautiful set if not, as I think it is, the best of Jonatha’s career.

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