Park Square Theatre's 'Dot' works best when it focuses on the lead

Petronella J. Ytsma

Petronella J. Ytsma

In Dot, the title character—like Ebenezer Scrooge—doesn’t realize it’s Christmas. She has to ask. Unlike Scrooge, though, Dotty is beset by spirits that will never leave. She has Alzheimer’s. Time has become fluid, and Christmas future is Christmas past.

The poignant story of Dotty (Cynthia Jones-Taylor), an African-American woman struggling against the reality that she can no longer live independently, is at the heart of Park Square Theatre’s ambitious holiday production. Colman Domingo’s 2015 play, however, also tries to tell several more stories, padding what could have been a tight and engrossing show into one that runs unnecessarily long—the better part of three hours including intermission.

It’s December in Philadelphia, and Dotty’s three adult children are coming home for the holidays. Under the direction of E.G. Bailey, the play features a nifty set by Andrea Heilman: The first half unfolds in the kitchen, and then after intermission the set reverses to reveal the family’s festively decorated living room.

Dotty’s daughter Shelly (Yvette Ganier) has become the exhausted principal caretaker—by default, because the rest of the family doesn’t realize the extent of the care that’s now needed. Shelly’s brother Donnie (Ricardo Beaird) is a broke music writer whose marriage to Adam (Michael Hanna) is increasingly strained, while her sister Averie (Dame-Jasmine Hughes) is trying to build a remunerative personal brand on the basis of one viral video.

As if all that wasn’t more than enough, the family has an old friend who’s come back into their lives. Jackie (Anna Letts Lakin) is a white woman who grew up in the neighborhood, becoming Donnie’s first and only girlfriend. Now she’s single and pregnant, and feeling nostalgic for Donnie, with whom she shared a genuine if ultimately platonic affection. Oh, and Dotty also has a caretaker (Maxwell Collyard) who’s a refugee from Kazakhstan.

When it keeps its focus on Dotty, Domingo’s play offers an illuminating window into the torturous circumstances of a family affected by a disease that claims lives in slow motion. Jones-Taylor gives an affecting performance as a woman who’s frightened and sad, but who knows there’s still a lot she can give. As Shelly, Ganier plays it admirably tough while nonetheless leaving us to wonder whether her siblings are on to something when they tell her she’s driving herself too hard.

The sprawling subplot involving Jackie, Donnie, and Adam, though, drags. Further, Lakin is awkward to a fault. Granted, she’s meant to be nervous, but nonetheless we just don’t feel the longstanding familiarity she ostensibly has with her former neighbors.

Hughes, on the other hand, brings a near-nuclear level of confident energy to the stage as Averie. Although she seems to have blasted in from another family, her energetic presence is a balm.

Bailey finds many warm and humorous moments in this emotionally difficult story of a family dealing with dementia, and Jones-Taylor gives the show a powerful core. Much of the play, though, is less compelling.

Park Square Theatre
20 W. Seventh Pl., St. Paul
651-291-7005; through January 7