Encore Michigan

“Mrs. Kelly’s Journey Home” is a gift of a story

Review July 05, 2022 David Kiley

SALINE, MI–When you see that Breeda Miller is performing her one-woman show, “Mrs. Kelly’s Journey Home,” make a point of seeing it. A poignant and well-written memory piece about Miller’s Detroit/Lincoln Park upbringing and her subsequent experience caring for her mother for six years, her story does a superb job of connecting with her audience.

Ms. Miller is performing the show on a touring basis. I recently caught it in Saline. Her next scheduled performance will be in Chicago at Chief O’Neill’s Irish Pub in Chicago, Illinois. July 29, 30, and 31.

And if you are a theatre and book traveling shows, “Mrs. Kelly’s Journey Home” is a show that will appeal to a large volume of today’s theatre patrons. There are more than 45 million unpaid caregivers of adults over the age of 65 in the U.S., according to pewresearch.org. That is a large and growing number as Baby Boomers age. The top of the Baby Boom is 76 today, and the bottom is 59.

Ms. Miller’s story originated as a ten-minute story at one of Brian Cox’s story-telling nights. Then, she and Cox teamed up with him as director to develop the two-hour show (with intermission) into a more complete piece.

Mrs. Kelly, Miller’s Mother, came to the U.S. from Ireland, Detroit specifically, with her husband and children in the 1950s. Miller does a beautiful job of bringing us along “the journey” through her Mother’s eyes, kindnesses, friendships, motherhood and marriage in the first half of the play. Mrs. Kelly could be any of our Mothers, which is the point. But Miller, helped by Cox’s directing, cherry-picks the best bits and brings to life all the little things that most of us with a similar upbringing feel are the mortar of the American family through the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The frugality, the closeness and friendships of neighbors, the struggles, the home-cooked meals.

It’s a photo-album that Miller brings to life (she actually compiled on while her Mother was in hospice) through her acting chops, as she changes characters through slight voice change and mannerisms like miming a cigarette when she takes on the role of her father.

In the second half of the show, we are met with Mrs. Kelly, the widow, who has to cope with a new life without her husband, no experience driving a car, and a gradual slide into dementia. Here, Ms. Miller’s own journey and her mother’s journey really converge in a way that confronts so many families. The roles reversed, Breeda becomes her Mother’s chief caregiver, bringing her into her home with her husband and children.

As anyone can attest, having an aging parent suffering from one of the several diseases of dementia come to live with you is an act of love that can hardly be equaled. The whole household becomes about that person who you don’t want to turn over to strangers until or unless it’s absolutely necessary. Parents of special needs children, such as those on the extreme side of the autism spectrum, can also relate to this situation and challenge of patience and heart.

Like any good Irish daughter who knows that tragedy must be met with a certain amount of humor, Miller’s story is anything but a downer. And while her story and show is hardly an escape (there are no special effects, just a wonderful storyteller), it is very much an inspirational grounding for many folks who relish and appreciation making connections with others through art.

There is no shortage of people who can benefit from the message of loving and coping, told in a delightful–at times funny–frame of Breeda Miler’s memory and journey. It is clear that the years she spent looking after her Mother was a great gift of love. The same can be said of “Mrs. Kelly’s Journey Home.”

If you are interested in booking “Mrs. Kelly’s Journey Home” to a theatre or an organization event, you can get all the information here.

Week of 7/15/2024

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