Performance by Winsome Brown 'Brings Audience to Tears'

Winsome Brown in "This is Mary Brown," her one-woman show at La Mama, directed by Brad Rouse.

Jun. 22, 2015

The whole family is on stage in Tribeca writer/director Winsome Brown’s one-woman show “This is Mary Brown” now playing at La Mama. How is that possible? Winsome seamlessly becomes her own mother, father, brother and two sisters not to mention friends, doctors and hilariously a Catholic priest in a versatile moving performance that can bring an audience to tears. As one character remarks in this tender portrayal of family love and strife,  “We all felt the all of it.’

The play mainly tells the story of Winsome’s charming, eccentric, troubled mother, Mary Brown or Mum as she is called throughout. The drama came to life in the writer’s Tribeca home on Hudson Street in 2014 and that is also where it was first performed. In a bid to find out how people would react to this compilation of some of the wilder stories of her mother’s life, Winsome and director Brad Rouse invited small groups made up of theatre pros and locals to see the play in her home. “It was very intimate,” she explained recently by phone, speaking in a distinctly Irish accent that her mother drilled into her during her childhood in Canada. “There were no lights and the room is pretty small,” she said. But over wine or cups of tea after the play, she discovered that many people were profoundly touched by her memoir-drama. “I think it’s because everyone has a mother,” she said.

At a recent performance, many in the audience were also mothers themselves as there was a large contingent from the P.S. 234 community where Winsome’s two daughters are at school. There were also some board members from Church Street School of Music where Winsome was until recently also on the board and where she learned to play guitar. She put this skill to good use in several songs in the show, which will transfer to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival after it’s run in the East Village. Brian Cox, a famous Shakespearian actor who also appeared in Xmen 2 was in the audience and joined the heartfelt standing ovation.

Such accolades are well deserved as the sheer honesty of the show is at times gob smacking. One wonders how Winsome’s siblings have reacted to some of the less flattering moments in the play. But as Winsome deftly switches from her mother’s well-bred Irish cadence to her sister’s all American voice all the characters are all strangely familiar. Who doesn’t have a relative who drinks too much, or a sibling who never fails to annoy? “I know her,” one of the early audience members told Winsome even though she had never met Mary Brown she felt she had. Each character resonates because their distinctive verbal idiosyncrasies are cleverly captured, as are their physical tics. Sometimes just the subtle change of an eye line gives the hint of whether Winsome is mother talking to young daughter or vice versa. It all takes place on a simple set with a few key props that flexibly suggest Mary’s home, her hospital room, Winsome’s home in Tribeca and much more.

But while Winsome’s winning mimicry of her relations is spot on, the “character” who seems the least real is herself. Despite her striking stage presence with her flowing strawberry blond locks, her own stage voice as Winsome is less expressive than the rest of the portrayals and less so even than her spoken voice in real life.

Nevertheless there is much to admire and enjoy in this heart wrenching slice of life. It is as Mary says “the life I’ve lived, there was magic enough in it.” Magic enough indeed.


Directed by Brad Rouse

Runs through June 28 at La Mama First Floor Theatre

74a East 4th Street

Run time 70 minutes no interval