“This Is Mary Brown” at La MaMa

David Roberts

Everything seems to be in place in Winsome Brown’s one woman tribute to her late mother Mary. Ms. Brown has gathered stories from her mother’s life, written a script which tells those stories from the points of view of a cast of fifteen characters (in addition to several Irish cousins), used more than the requisite number of rich tropes, and packaged it in a palatable seventy minute performance – a product she intends to take to this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. And although Ms. Brown's commitment to honoring her feisty mother’s memory is admirable, there are concerns about the overall success of this well received performance piece.

“This Is Mary Brown” is episodic in structure (not linear), character driven, depends on a variety of points of view, and employs the use of strong imagery and often compelling figurative language. What is missing unfortunately is much needed emotional connection to the characters Ms. Brown has created. One comes away from this piece not really knowing who Mary Brown was and why she is such a morally ambiguous individual. A woman who flicks cigarette ashes into her child’s hands, fails to respond quickly to the report that her young son has been electrocuted, and fails to deal with her addictive behavior is somehow less than endearing – unless somehow that matrix of behaviors is redemptive. There is no sense of redemptive catharsis in Winsome Brown’s convoluted script.

Winsome Brown (Photo Credit - La Mama Website)

Winsome Brown (Photo Credit - La Mama Website)

Adding to this is the cast of poorly defined “supporting characters.” No one is really likable. Funny, yes. Likable, no. And the actor Winsome Brown does not distinguish between these characters in her performance. Perhaps Ms. Brown is too close to this material and should hand the role over to another actor. Or perhaps director Brad Rouse needs to better assist the playwright gain emotional distance from the script. 

The script itself needs attention. There are scenes which seem completely extraneous or wrongly placed in the narrative. And the final scenes are troubling as well. Mary’s remorseful speech is not convincing and the audience really does not care about Mary’s husband Covell’s daughter Tracy’s gluten allergies. And whether or not the priest administering extreme unction is gay is puzzling and out of place.

The audience is clear about one thing: Winsome Brown loves her mother deeply and attempts to pay homage to her memory in this tribute script. Perhaps that is enough. But one longs for more understanding about the woman who breaks hospital rules when she brings her son Nicholas a new bike covered up on a gurney she wheels to his bedside. In its current incarnation, this understanding is missing and whether is can be included before the Edinburg Festival Fringe remains an open question.


Presented by La MaMa Earth. The creative team includes Michael O’Connor (lighting design), Jane DiBartolo (stage manager), James Physick (production manager), and Jack Reynolds (light board operator). Photo credit - La Mama Website.

Scheduled through June 28, THIS IS MARY BROWN performs Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $18; $13 for students/seniors. To purchase tickets, visit www.lamama.org or call 646 430 5374.