Review | Dot: glitter, with tarnished gold

Park Square Theatre, through Jan 7

Jasmine Hughes and Cynthia Jones-Taylor in DOT. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma.

Christmas time mingles past, present and future as families gather to celebrate and share common traditions and memories. So it’s no surprise to discover a play about a family’s struggle with Alzheimer’s during the holiday season when the loss of memory and basic competency in a loved elder is especially poignant. Such is the story of Dot (Park Square, through 1/7) by Colman Domingo now having its Midwest premiere at Park Square Theatre. Dot may seem like an odd story to tempt audiences with in the festive month of December but the comic drama often boarders on broad farce as it portrays the slide in and out of reality of its title character, and family matriarch, Mrs. Dotty Shealy.

Dotty grapples to maintain her grasp on reality as her faculties grow increasingly unreliable. Her three adult children, brought together for the holiday, are forced to deal with the situation. The two younger siblings, wannabe singer/actress Averie, and gay, plodding-into-middle-age Donny, are both in denial about the severity of their mother’s condition. The eldest child, Shelley, a lawyer with a control problem, is overwhelmed with the responsibility of caretaking. All of this is complicated by the fact that African-American Mrs. Shealy, though firmly middle class, lives in a crime riddled and anxious black neighborhood of Philadelphia that also teeters on the brink of collapse.

Nearly every character in this kitchen sink drama threatens to become a caricature as we learn about their lives. Shelley (Yvette Ganier) drinks tumblers full of vodka at ten in the morning; Donny (Ricardo Beaird), a musicologist, refuses to play the piano anymore. Donny is married to Adam, (Michael Hanna) who believes in imposing juice fasts on his partner which last for days on end. Some parts of this script work better than others. Talented Dame-Jasmine Hughes very nearly steals the show in the second act with her delightfully over the top portrayal of hip-hopping Averie who’s waiting for her big break to stardom. In the meantime, she lives in her sister’s basement and settles for doing trashy assignments like Mud wrestling for a TV show. But even jiving Averie can’t take the spotlight away from Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Dotty Shealy. She is rightful owner of center focus as she believably shifts from cogent remarks and occasional barbed criticism to being lost in a haze of forgetfulness and explosive frustration.

Director E.G. Bailey delivers many fine scenes as when the younger family members wrap themselves in arguments, filled with contentious mixed emotions. The heated discussions escalate into shouting matches that lead to a moment of stunned silence on all sides. Then one or another character delivers a juicy laugh-line with just the right zing to elicit a medicinal belly-laugh from the audience.

The 2 hour, 45 minute play could use some trimming however. Extraneous facts halt the play’s real purpose. There are plot lines that lead nowhere and lend nothing to play’s arc such as the revelation in one of the final scenes that Dot’s long dead husband and noted medical doctor, drank too much. Playwright Domingo sometimes trips on his own devices. Jackie, (Anna Letts Lakin) the former neighbor, is an unbelievably clueless 40-year-old. A white, Jewish woman who now lives in New York, her motivations never ring true as she hankers after her high school boyfriend, gay Donny, 20 years after graduation. Likewise, Domingo has a hard time giving characters plausible reasons for coming on and off stage. Coupled with a squishy timeline—what year does the action take place in anyway? –it makes what could be a great show into a good, but sometimes under-realized play. When scenes do work—as when Dotty sits with her box of old photographs in the light of the Christmas tree—the potential shines through.


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