This Stage Show is A Tribute to Mom

Breeda Kelly Miller brings her mother’s story to the Penn Theatre in Plymouth, this Mother’s Day and for many more.
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Mrs. Kelly’s Journey Home is a one-woman show about the journey from Ireland to America made by the performer’s mother, who was later diagnosed with dementia. // Photograph courtesy of Breeda Kelly Miller

After completing the first live stage performance at the 83-year-old downtown Plymouth Penn Theatre since Friends of the Penn helped reopen it in 2006, actor-playwright Breeda Kelly Miller stared wistfully at its rafters last November and declared, “I wish this could be my home theater.”

To which Ellen Elliott, executive director of Friends of the Penn, the 501(c)(3) organization that operates the classic single-screen movie theater, replied, “It could be! You want it to be? Let’s talk.”

Must be the luck of the Irish. So it is that Lincoln Park native Miller’s poignant, powerful one-woman play about her mother, Mrs. Kelly’s Journey Home, came to be staged at the Penn. The play documents her mom’s journey from Ireland through the end of her life when she was living with dementia. The play, which Miller wrote and stars in, will be presented three times this Mother’s Day weekend — Miller’s idea, Elliott notes — and every succeeding Mother’s Day for as long as she can tread the boards.

“Ninety-nine percent of the ideas people bring to us for fundraising won’t work for one reason or another, but I listen anyway because you never know,” Elliott says. “One of our donors called and said, ‘We just saw this play — it’s amazing; Breeda Miller wants to do it as a fundraiser, and Penn would be the perfect venue.’ I wanted Breeda to see the space because this is a movie theater, so I said, ‘Ask her to call me.’ Twenty minutes later, Breeda was on the phone.”

Photograph courtesy of Breeda Kelly Miller

Miller describes herself as an “accidental caregiver,” after taking her mother, Mary Kelly, into her home when Kelly developed vascular dementia and no longer could care for herself. She lived with Miller and Miller’s husband and three children for nearly six years before passing away in 2011 at age 86. Miller funneled her long-term feelings of exhaustion, frustration, and stress into a two-act script that, after 10 rewrites with acclaimed Ann Arbor-based director Brian Cox, became Mrs. Kelly’s Journey Home.

Changing only her vocal inflections, Miller portrays four characters: her mother, her mother’s best friend, her father, and herself. By her count, she has performed the play 26 times to date in 17 cities, seven states, and two countries: the U.S. and her parents’ native Ireland.

“It was the most daunting experience, performing in front of Irish people, many of whom I was related to, doing an Irish accent,” she recalls. “The opportunities for failure were huge. But after the play, one of my cousins said to me, ‘Breeda, the buzz in the lobby was so positive.’ They could relate to it, and they loved it.”

She reflects. “When I originally wrote this piece, I thought, ‘Who’s gonna like this?’ I thought I had two audiences: Irish people who like Irish stories, and people interested in elder or dementia care. And I’m so delighted to say I was completely wrong. Nobody thinks a play about dementia is going to be a good time, but just as dementia didn’t define Mary Kelly, it doesn’t define this play. This show transcends ethnicity, race, religion, age. It’s affirming, and I am so proud of it.”

Mrs. Kelly’s Journey Home will be staged at 7 p.m. Friday, May 10, and in 2 p.m. matinees Saturday, May 11, and Sunday, May 12, at the Penn Theatre at 760 Penniman Ave. in Plymouth. Go to penntheatre.com or breedamiller.com, or email info@friendsofthepenn.org, for more information.


This story originally appeared in the May 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. To read more, pick up a copy of Hour Detroit at a local retail outlet. Our digital edition will be available on May 6.