By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Family. You always love them but sometimes you don’t like them very much and that’s OK. The latest offering from Everyman Theatre, DOT by Coleman Domingo and Directed by Vincent M. Lancisi, with Set Design by James Fouchard, Lighting Design by Harold F. Burgess II, Sound Design by Elisheba Ittoop, and Costume Design by David Burdick gives us a glimpse into the lives of a middle-class West Philadelphia family who are dealing with illness, change, and individual demons that are trying to get them down. All of these issues thrown into the pot make for an entertaining, bittersweet tale that is relatable and very important, tackling Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia in a way that is accessible to all audiences.
Set in present day in an old neighborhood in West Philadelphia, Dotty is the widowed matriarch of a middle class family with three grown children including two daughters and one son. Recently, the tables have turned and the children are finding they are all of a sudden taking care of mom rather than the other way around. When it comes to family, you deal, you compromise, and you make sacrifices. Family is just plain hard to deal with sometimes but then, nature likes to throw a curve ball and it throws Alzheimer’s disease or Dementia on top of everything else and the ball game changes completely.
As I’ve stated before, Everyman Theatre has not disappointed when it comes to sets for their productions and James Fouchard’s exquisite Set Design is no different. He has managed to recreate an elegant upper-middle class home that is still “homey” with working kitchen appliances and crown molding that’s to die for! Fouchard’s ingenuity shines through as the entire set makes a complete shift to the left during intermission for Act II. What was once a large kitchen and dining room (left to right) becomes ¼ kitchen, dining room, and large living room (left to right) within 15 minutes. His attention to detail from the tchotchkes around the room to the beautifully decorated Christmas tree is superb and authentic and Fouchard is to be commended for his striking design.
Lighting and Sound Design by Harold F. Burgess II and Elisheba Ittoop, respectively, is well thought out and absolutely appropriate to this piece. Burgess’ Lighting Design is spot on giving the audience cues to what time of day it is both inside and outside and sets the mood beautifully throughout the piece. Working in tandem with Lighting Design, Ittoop’s Sound Design works nicely, especially when a good old fashioned vinyl record of a bygone era is played on the record player giving a nostalgic feel to the entire piece. Along with that, whether scripted or otherwise, the song choices for this production near perfect and move the piece along with ease.
Costume Design by David Burdick is superb capturing the contemporary look of this middle-class family in West Philly. Not being a period piece, costumes are pretty much every day styles but Burdick’s design still shines as each character’s style is unique, adding to each character’s presence. Urban elegance is what I would call this costume plot and it works impeccably with this piece, adding to the value of the production.
The script for DOT (by none other than Coleman Domingo, a star of AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead) is touching on a delicate topic and is funny and poignant at the same time so any director has to handle it adroitly but under the bright helm of Director Vincent M. Lancisi, this piece shines. Lancisi really understands this piece and uses the humor of the script wisely, catching the audience off guard, at times, and breaking up the drama of this emotional story. His characters are authentic and his casting makes for great chemistry onstage. He keeps the action moving smoothly and presents an on point and very well put together production.
Moving on to the performance aspect of DOT, this ensemble is impeccable. They work well together, have the right look, and each actor understands his or her character and the inner emotional factors and outside actions that move them.
Ryan Carlo Dalusung takes on the role of Fidel, a more supporting role of caregiver to our titular character, Dot, but just as significant as every other character in this piece. Dalusung gives strong performance as the Kazakhstani caregiver who answered a Craigslist ad and really seems to get his characters purpose of going through a similar situation as Dot, not really understanding everything that is going on at all times with the only difference being his handicap is a language barrier while Dot’s is more physical. I did have slight issue with his accent as I heard it as more South American or Spanish but it very could be Kazakhstani as Kazakhstan is placed smack dab in the middle between Russia, The Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Asia… any one of those accents may have worked. Regardless of the accent, Dalusung gives a believable performance making his character very likable and befitting with the family for whom he works.
The role of Adam, the fussy husband of the only male of the family who has some demons of his own to contend with, is masterfully played by Rob Jansen. Adam is a 40-year-old who is possibly in the beginnings of a mid-life crisis and Jansen’s portrayal is near perfect. He gets this character and he is comfortable on the stage. He manages to show two sides of this character with one being the nagging husband of Donnie as well as the empathetic, sweet son-in-law of Dotty. His delivery may be a bit too careful at times, sounding a bit scripted and unnatural, but overall, his character is congenial he gives a confident and enjoyable performance.
Yaegel T. Welch tackles the role of Donnie, the prodigal (and only) son of Dotty, who is a 40-year-old freelance writer and middle child, who might not like the idea of his mother being sick. Welch’s portrayal of Donnie is absolutely outstanding as he navigates through the emotions of this character, dealing with the possibility of growing apart from his husband, not having a steady job in New York, caring for a sick parent, and wanting children. Throw in an ex-girlfriend and you have the makings of a pretty heavy character, but Welch takes this challenge and runs with it. His mannerisms and overall attitude make for a very authentic and affable character and, comparing to my brother, the middle child in my own family, Welch plays this role beautifully. His chemistry with his fellow cast mates is wonderful and he gives a strong, confident performance.
Shelly, the overbearing, eldest child who is also a stressed out, day-drinking single mom is played by Resident Artist Dawn Ursula, and she pulls off this role flawlessly. Her character, like many caretakers, feels as though she’s the only one of her siblings dealing with the situation of a sick parent while trying to stay afloat in her own life and the gesticulations and emotion that exudes from Ursula’s performance are outstanding. She captures the desperation and stress of this character but also gets the humor that is intertwined making for a very real and relatable. Her delivery might be a bit too forceful in the beginning, sounding too scripted and deliberate, but as the show progresses, her delivery falls into a very good rhythm, fitting in nicely with the show as a whole. I just wish it would have happened from the beginning. Ursula managed to get to the heart of this character and it makes for a very strong, entertaining, touching, and noteworthy performance.
Paige Hernandez takes on the role of Averie, the youngest, brash, lost-all-give-a-f**k, one-time YouTube sensation, and she is a standout in this production. Though the character, with her loud entrances and blunt replies, seems to be the comic relief of the piece, Hernandez pulls off the character with excellence and ease. She is very natural and confident in this role and her comedic timing and delivery are spot on. Being the youngest in my family, I can assure you, her attitude toward and actions in the situations that arise in the show are just about perfect. I think the youngest of any brood has his or her own ideas on how things run and, usually, he or she thinks she absolutely right and Hernandez portrays this in a way that hits home for me. Her performance is definitely funny, but it is also moving making the character of Averie well-rounded and well-performed. Kudos to Hernandez on a great performance.
Another definitely highlight in this production of DOT is Resident Artist Megan Anderson, who takes on the role of Jackie, the high school sweetheart of Donnie and a current hot mess. Jackie has a plethora of problems of her own, but sometimes family doesn’t mean just blood related and she gets sucked into the situations of this family she’s known her entire life. Anderson is so natural in this role and brings a realness to it that it was easy for me to forget she was reading from a script. Her story of life in the big city, infidelity, being single, and coming home for a break from life is just as interesting as the main plot and Anderson carries it well. She plays her character to fit right in with this family and she shines in her performance. Her authenticity and comedic timing are impeccable, as are her emotional scenes, making her character amiable and relatable. Kudos to Anderson for a job very well done.
The pinnacle of this production certainly Sharon Hope, who takes on the titular role of Dotty (or Dot), the elderly, strong matriarch of this crazy family who, by fate alone, is slipping into an inevitable oblivion because of the recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Hope takes this role and makes it her own and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in this role. Though an elderly character, she’s a contemporary character and Hope manages to embrace the old fashioned (and conservative) values of this woman but brings an air of au fait to the character. Her quick transitions from congenial mother to angry, confused woman is on point and poignant. She is able to portray the struggles of one whose mind is slowly slipping away, with no way of coming back while at the same time portraying a woman who loves and enjoys her family and wants to be present for as long as she can. Her performance is top notch and is worth the price of admission.
Final though… DOT at Everyman Theatre is a well-crafted story of an everyday family and is a relatable, poignant, and funny study into an issue that is far from funny, but absolutely present in our current lives. I laughed, I cried, I had all the feels, and whether you’ve experienced Alzheimer’s or Dementia first hand, indirectly, or not at all, you will walk away with a better understanding and perhaps a bit more compassion for our fellow humans, especially those affected by this disease. Get your tickets now because this is not a production that is to be missed this season.
That’s what I thought about DOT, playing at Everyman Theatre… what did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, please go to Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.