Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
Set in present-day West Philadelphia, the piece focuses on that titular character (invested with dignity by Kathryn Hunter-Williams), who is experiencing the onset of Alzheimer's disease. She is under the watchful eye of her frustrated eldest daughter Shelly (Rasool Jahan, dynamic), who has turned to early morning drinking to cope with the stress of this caregiving. Realizing her mother needs more care than she can provide or afford, Shelly hopes to place her in a care facility with financial assistance from her siblings: Donnie, a musicologist who lives with his husband Adam in New York City (Samuel Ray Gates and Adam Poole, respectively); and Averie (a hilarious Shanelle Nicole Leonard), a former internet star who now lives in Shelly's basement. For better or for worse, this holiday will be their opportunity to deal with their mother's condition.
Under the direction of Nicole A. Watson, the play shifts back and forth from the family's concerns about their mother to the stories of their own problems; dealing with their mother seems to bring everything to the surface. Shelly's steadfast labors as the primary caregiver don't always succeed, and she is continually provoked by her younger sister's live-for-today ethic. Averie seems to navigate life in a series of head snaps, curse words, and her own brand of overbearing attitude. In the middle is their brother Donnie, who with his husband Adam is trying to deal with mismatched ideas about having their own family.
Colman Domingo has created a rich and complex family, but this play feels a bit unformed at times, wandering away from its theme of the way our memories form us. I found myself waiting through subplots for the resolution of the main conflict. Some characters seem a bit shoehorned in; neighbor Jackie (Leighton Brown) and Russian caretaker Fidel (a convincing Rishan Dhamija) are given little to do and oddly wind up staying the night at the Shealy home, straining credulity. The play might have found a tighter focus by limiting its scope to the immediate family.
The ensemble finds every comedic moment, and there are many, but there are instances of overacting and questionable choices of reactions. In one scene, a panic attack could just as easily have been a heart attack. Standouts are Rasool Jahan and Shanelle Nicole Leonard, both seen recently here in Intimate Apparel. Ms. Jahan is stunning in her versatility, and Ms. Leonard commands attention whenever she's on stage.
McKay Coble's scenic design deserves special mention. The Shealy home comes to life first in the kitchen and then, for the second act, in the living room. The thrust stage at the Paul Green Theatre offers both versatility and significant challenges, and Ms. Coble's experience transforming this space continues to impress.
Dot asks important questions about how our memories play a fundamental role in who we are and how we understand ourselves. This production homes in on the heart and humor of this play and earns its heartwarming ending. The more serious dramatic elements might deserve a steadier hand and more nuance in performance.
Dot is presented by PlayMakers at the Paul Green Theatre at UNC's Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Road, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, through December 10th, 2017. Tickets can be purchased online at www.playmakersrep.org or by phone at 919-962-7529.
Playwright: Colman Domingo