By Daniel Skora
Her given name is Dorothy, but it’s been shortened first to Dotty, now to Dot. Though it may just be a coincidence, the reduction that’s happened to Dorothy’s name is much like the reduction that’s happening to her mind. Dorothy has Alzheimer’s, and all those qualities that once made her a wonderfully vibrant woman are slowly being taken away by a disease that robs its victims of their very identities.
“DOT” is also the name of Colman Domingo’s play that’s currently being presented at Detroit Public Theatre. If the play manages to be lighthearted and humorous even while the future it portends is so inescapably bleak, it’s due to the fact that it’s Christmas time at Dotty’s Philadelphia home and her children have all arrived to celebrate the holidays.
For some time, Dotty (Madelyn Porter) has been experiencing increasingly troublesome bouts of dementia. Her care has fallen largely to her daughter Shelly (Tracey Conyer Lee), who has moved in with her mother to assist her. But Shelley needs to return to her job in New York and she hopes her siblings will become aware of their mother’s declining condition and agree to share in the responsibilities.
Her brother Donnie (Curtis Wiley) is a musical archivist who arrives with Adam (Christopher Corporandy), his same sex husband. Her sister Averie (Shawntay Dalon) is an aspiring actress and the family extrovert who’s never at a loss for words. Present also are two other characters, Jackie (Maggie Meyer), a high school girlfriend of Donnie’s before he became aware of his sexual proclivities, and Fidel (Artun Kircali), who was a social activist in Russia before he came to America and now helps out as Dottie’s caregiver.
Domingo’s script plays best when it focuses on Dotty and her family’s reaction to her illness. Dotty’s quips and comments can be both funny and heartbreaking. Madelyn Porter’s performance is truly a treasure, a beautiful, touching portrait of a remarkable woman who will soon come to be denied the most basic of human entitlements, the right to live in reality. The play meanders a bit when it attempts to deal with numerous other situations: Donnie and Adam are having problems in their relationship which has exacerbated Donnie’s eating disorder; Jackie is pregnant from her relationship with a married man, which she now views as a mistake and doesn’t know what to do about the baby; Fidel, a social activist in his own country, has not seen his family in years and is working in America as a caregiver illegally.
It’s always a pleasure to go visiting for the holidays, and you can do no better than spend an evening with Dotty and her family. The show features an enthused and talented cast and contains several emotionally moving scenes. Though its themes are topical and relevant, “DOT” is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of entertainment.
The production contains a bonus show-within-a-show for those who stay in their seats during intermission. The first act takes place in the kitchen of the Philadelphia home where Dotty lives, then relocates to the living room of the same house for the second act. That requires the entire set to be restructured. Under the supervision of stage manager Katherine Nelson with fabrication assistance by Westend Studios, the fridge, stove and entire kitchen counter must go to allow for chairs and a sofa to be brought in along with a baby grand piano and a staircase that leads to the second floor of the home.
“DOT” is directed by Saheem Ali. Set design is by Lauren Mills, costumes are by Christianne Myers. Lighting is by Ben Green with sound by Frannie Shepherd-Bates. The play is a regional premier and runs through December 11th. Tickets are available online at www.detroitpublictheatre.org, by phone at 313.576.5111, and in person at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra box office. Performances of Detroit Public Theatre take place at the Robert A. and Maggie Allesee Rehearsal Hall inside the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center located at 3711 Woodward Avenue in Detroit.