Memories are an integral part of a person, actress and singer Ami Brabson posited on a Tuesday in mid-April.
“What happens, then, if something happens to your memory?” she asked. “If you lose your memory, do you then lose yourself?”
Brabson — best known in Baltimore for playing the wife of Andre Braugher’s Detective Frank Pembleton on NBC’s locally filmed “Homicide: Life on the Street” (the pair are married in real life, too) — will tackle those questions later this month, when she performs “Resilience & Joy, A Cabaret” at Theatre Project in Midtown on April 29 and 30.
Through original narration or “patter,” as it’s called in cabaret, and an arrangement of songs from other artists and eras, Brabson tells the life story of her own mother, navigating love and marriage, raising five children, dealing with old age and illness.
The weekend will be a sort of homecoming for the New Jersey resident, who once lived in Baltimore and still has family in the area. Brabson last performed one of her cabarets at Theatre Project in 2019, and was expected to return in 2020 with “A Change Is Gonna Come,” when the coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench in her plans.
“We had beautiful posters printed up for it and everything,” said Chris Pfingsten, Theatre Project’s producing director.
Pfingsten, a Maryland native, has served in that role since 2012, curating each season of theater, musical performances, puppetry, dance and more. He first worked for the theater in the 1980s, when he flipped homes for artists to stay in while they were performing at the venue.
He worked for over two decades at Walt Disney World, as an actor, and was the mascot for the Orioles for three years, including when they won the World Series in 1983. “It was a little sweaty,” Pfingsten said of wearing the bird get-up. “Mascot costuming has come a long way in 40 years.”
When planning this season at Theatre Project, Pfingsten knew he wanted Brabson to finally make her return. “I’ve been trying to get her back here” since her canceled show, he said.
Brabson first began working on “Resilience & Joy, A Cabaret” in 2021, during the coronavirus pandemic; it took months to complete.
“In every song, there’s a story,” she said. “Our lives are very layered and complex, and cannot be summed up necessarily as neatly as we’d like them to be.”
The cabaret is biographical, following the life arc of Brabson’s mother, Annie. But Brabson refrained from divulging details about her mother’s experience of memory-related illness, out of a desire to sidestep simple categorization. “Her life — or anyone’s life — is not summed up with a label,” she said.
She’s performed “Resilience & Joy, A Cabaret” already, including outdoors, on a porch in New Jersey.
In Baltimore, Theatre Project offers her a space for storytelling in front of new crowds; the venue has a “black box feel, so it can become what you want it to become,” Brabson said.
“What’s lovely is when you come into a space and the welcome is warm,” she added. “As much as I want it to be thought-provoking, I swear I want people to laugh and to just tap their toes and maybe even go down memory lane with some of the music,” which will include hits from The Jackson 5 and The 5th Dimension.
Michael Brabson, Ami’s older brother who lives in Bowie, recalled that at their late father’s funeral, the family sang songs “that we used to sing when we were in the back seat of a station wagon growing up,” at his sister’s direction.
“It’s captivating,” he said of his sister’s voice. “She is what I would call a dynamic singer. Because of her acting background, she’s able to put feeling into the lyrics.”
At Theatre Project, Pfingsten is betting on the show striking a chord with audience members.
“It’s brand new, you never know how it’s going to turn out,” he said. “We’re sharing in the risk, and hopefully there’s reward afterward.”
If you go
“Resilience & Joy, A Cabaret” is April 29-30 at Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., in Baltimore. Tickets are $30 at theatreproject.org.