Colman Domingo’s comedy-drama Dot takes on the plight of Alzheimer’s through the eyes of the patient and the people who love and take care of them. Dotty (Marjorie Johnson), is clearly in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s and she is in decline. From sharp witted and catty to blank stares like a deer in headlights, she is becoming too much for her 45-year-old single parent daughter, Shelly, (Sharon Washington) to take care of. Shelly has decided it is time her siblings take some of the burden, before she loses it. The play takes place during the Christmas holidays as everything unravels. Dotty 65, is the widowed matriarch of a black middle-class family from Philadelphia. She has decided to use this holiday to teach her children about what she is going through.
Originally staged at the Humana Festival in Louieville, the Vineyard Theater’s production has a lot to offer, though when dissecting the whole play it is flawed.
As Shelly is waiting for her siblings Jackie (Finnerty Steeves), her gay brother’s white high school girlfriend arrives. Jackie is fleeing an emotional problem, but her character adds nothing to the plot and you wonder why she is even here. When younger brother, Donnie (Stephen Conrad Moore) and his husband, Adam (Colin Hanlon), arrive, we learn that they are battling relationship issues. When younger sister, Averie (Libya V. Pugh), who lives in Shelly’s basement, arrives and it is clear she and Shelly get on each other’s nerves. Shelly is responsible, Averie is out to enjoy life. We also meet Fidel (Michael Rosen), the hired caregiver from Kazakhstan who works three days a week, but Shelly needs either more money or her siblings to pitch in so she can go back to being a public defender. The problem is Donnie’s finances are limited due to his career as a music journalist. Averie is actress whose claim to fame is being a 10-minute Internet sensation. When Dotty has Donnie take a test that allows him to understand her plight, the family comes to realize they are in this together for better or worse.
The cast is excels in this work especially Ms. Pugh’s lively Averie and Ms. Washington, as the hair changing, solid as a rock Shelly, who is losing it as much as her mother. These two are opposite sides of the coin and balance the piece. Make no mistake without an actress displaying the humor, the will to strive against the odds with a warmth that make the audience love you Dot is just another play about Alzheimer’s. With Ms. Johnson at the helm, we see the slow decline mixed with the will to keep her dignity and proceed with grace. We see Dotty unpeel like an onion slowly by layers.
Ms. Stroman’s direction keeps away from the musical theatre though we do get a dance scene, which could be trimmed. There are scenes that go on a little too long and the acts are uneven, but she does keep and bring out the humor.
Mr. Domingo, who besides being a playwright is a talented actor/singer/ dancer shows promise as a writer. In Dot his characters are complex, but I would have like to have learned more about the siblings and less of the boyfriend, ex-girlfriend and the caregiver. This is a family that is only on the verge of this journey. I know because I have several friends who’s parent’s have gone down this road. Though we see Donnie lose it in the Alzheimer’s test, his freaking out seems to come from nowhere. Why does it unnerve him so much? Is it because of the fasting or is it because he knows he is now predestined for this disease. None of the characters talk about that issue.
I am glad that this play is out there because the pain, suffering and how siblings choose to gang up on the sibling, who gives up their lives for the parent …happens. Sadly I have witnessed this in a much stronger way, especially if there is money involved. Alzheimer’s is like a virus, it spreads and effects everybody in it’s wake.
Dot: The Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th until March 20th