With her poignant and tuneful solo show My Mother Has 4 Noses, Jonatha Brooke shares a story that’s both familiar — caring for an elderly parent with dementia — and unique in its quirky and intimate details. Brooke, a literate neo-folkie who burst on the music scene in the ’90s but who’s best known for writing (and singing) the theme to Joss Whedon’s short-lived Dollhouse, performs a kind of annotated concept album — accompanied only by guitarist Ben Butler and cellist Anja Wood. (The show is playing at Off Broadway’s The Duke on 42nd.)
A girlish 50-year-old with a forthright and friendly stage manner. Brooke draws a sharp but loving portrait of her mother, whom she affectionately describes as ”a serial character looking for a play.” Known as Stoney, mom published poetry, sometimes dressed as a clown, and practiced Christian Science (except when she didn’t). Due to a long-untreated cancerous growth on her face, she underwent belated surgery and acquired four prosthetic noses. It turns out that Brooke’s provocative title is not a metaphor.
Brooke is no stranger to metaphor, though, and the Amherst grad punctuates her story with the kind of amusing, acute details that marked her earliest lyrics. ”I felt like a soggy piñata,” she says at one point, ”the funniest thing would burst me into tears.” She is also no stranger to heartache, and she gives voice to those feelings both in narrative and in song without ever veering into mawkishness. On tunes like the standout ”Time,” on which she accompanies herself on kalimba (a handheld thumb piano), her naturally plaintive soprano turns ethereal when she slips into falsetto. It’s a voice remarkably well suited to this material. By the end, you may find yourself feeling like a soggy piñata yourself. B+