Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Dot at Park Square Theatre

Cynthia Jones-Taylor, Yvette Ganier, Anna Letts Lakin
Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma. 
Bold move, Park Square Theatre.

While other theaters offer up sugar plums and Christmas carols during the lucrative holiday theater season, you are presenting a play that tackles weighty issues of family dynamics and dementia.

I support this wholeheartedly.

Dot, now at Park Square through January 7, is an exciting new play by actor and playwright Colman Domingo, which originally opened at the Vineyard Theater in 2016.

The play revolves around Dot, or "Dotty," (Cynthia Jones-Taylor) the matriarch of a squabbly family in Philadelphia who are coming together to celebrate the holidays. Although daughter Shelly (Yvette Ganier) has been the primary (and incredibly stressed) caregiver for her mother, her brother Donnie (Ricardo Beaird) and sister Averie (Dame-Jasmine Hughes) are just realizing the extent of Dotty's dementia. Neighbor Jackie (Anna Letts Lakin), Donnie's husband Adam (Michael Hanna), and unlicensed caregiver Fidel (Maxwell Collyard) all join in, creating a rich and bubbling stew of family drama.

Maxwell Collyard and Cynthia Jones-Taylor
Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma
Lest I make it sound unrelentingly grim, though, there are heaps of humor in Dot. Ricardo Beaird's fantastic comic timing adds a rich level to his character, and Dame-Jasmine Hughes adds a surge of energy in the second act. Yvette Ganier, who stepped in on very short notice and is amazing, makes the much put-upon Shelly multilayered and endearing.

Cynthia Jones-Taylor, as Dot, portrays the wildly vacillating states of someone with dementia with authenticity, yet never stops being the heart of this play. Michael Hanna and Maxwell Collyard add a sweetness to the often-edgy family dynamics.

Holidays can be hard. This is not an easy play--crosstalk, swears, and long-simmering resentments abound--but it's a beautifully written, amazingly acted, incredibly worthwhile story. The portrayal of a character struggling with dementia and the family drama intensified by the siblings’ love and worry for their mother are increasingly relevant and poignant.

Dame-Jasmine Hughes and Cynthia Jones-Taylor
Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma
As director E.G. Bailey says: "It's part of our tradition--to confront tragedy with comedy, to laugh to keep from crying. I love the characters, their humanity, their candor, and sense of humor...there's obviously a lot of love between them."

Go see this play. Support new theater. Support amazing actors. Support stories of humanity and humor.

And once again (as in our review of Imagined Theatre's Facility), here's a public service announcement.

If you are caring for someone with dementia, there is help available. I work with an organization called Roseville Alzheimers & Dementia Community Action Team, which provides community information, programming and helpful resources at your local library for those with dementia and their caregivers. Check out their amazingly helpful website for more information.

I also highly recommend a couple of books:

A Caregiver's Guide to Dementia: Using Strategies to Prevent, Reduce and Manage Behavioral Symptoms by Laura Gitlin

This fairly slim and not remotely intimidating book helps caregivers find ways to manage the symptoms of dementia. Filled with incredibly simple and practical advice, this is a must-have for anyone working, caring for, or loving someone with dementia. SO highly recommended.

Creating Moments of Joy Along the Alzheimer's Journey: A Guide for Families and Caregivers by Jolene Brackey

As Brackey says: "When people have short-term memory loss, their lives are made up of moments. We are not able to create perfectly wonderful days for people with dementia or Alzheimer's, but we can create perfectly wonderful moments, moments that put a smile on their faces and a twinkle in their eyes. Five minutes later, they will not remember what we did or said, but the feeling that we left them with will linger."

Public service announcement over. Thanks for listening.