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Colman Domingo’s Dot at PlayMakers Rep Is "A Dizzy, Dysfunctional Family Reunion to Remember"

<em>Dot</em> stars at PlayMakers (from left) Samuel Ray Gates, Adam Pool, Kathryn Hunter-Williams (seated), Shanelle Leonard, and Rasool Jahan (photo by HuthPhoto)

Dot stars (from left) Samuel Ray Gates, Adam Pool, Kathryn Hunter-Williams (seated), Shanelle Leonard, and Rasool Jahan (photo by HuthPhoto)

PlayMakers Repertory Company will present the regional premiere of Philadelphia, PA-born African-American playwright and screenwriter Coleman Domingo’s 2017 adult comedy, Dot, which PRC dubs “A dizzy, dysfunctional family reunion to remember,” on Nov. 22 and 24-26, Nov. 28-Dec. 3, and Dec. 5-10 in the Paul Green Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art. (In preshow publicity, UNC’s professional-theater-in-residence cautions parents: “Dot is recommended for audiences 16 and older, due to language and adult situations.“)

“The original director had to withdraw from the production, so [PRC producing artistic director] Vivienne [Benesch] called me up a couple weeks before rehearsals began and asked if I was free,” says Brooklyn, NY-based freelance director Nicole A. Watson. “Four years ago, I was an assistant director here at PlayMakers Rep, so it’s been nice to come back as a director.”

She adds, “I read the play and I really loved it. I don’t know anyone who’s not asking one of the questions that the play is asking. ‘How do you care for your aging parents?’ ‘How do you negotiate life as an adult when you don’t feel like one?’

“Unless you have nobody in your life,” says Watson, “I think you’ll have experienced this family’s circumstances at some time or another. And even if you have nobody in your life, I bet you will ask yourself what you’re doing with your life. And that convergence of what are you doing for yourself vs. what are you doing for others.”

Nicole Watson, who’s making her PlayMakers directorial debut with Dot, says, “The thing that I enjoy is just watching the siblings. I think that it’s such a known way of behaving. ‘Yeah, I did that to my sister. I do that to my brother.’

“No matter what age you are,” she says, “you are perpetually a child when it comes to your parents or your sister and brother. There’s like a fixed pattern that you’re trying to break out of. So, that’s been a lot of fun. I don’t know if it’s surprising; it’s just very real. And something that is known and yet always a surprise to see again and again and again.”

Nicole Watson says, “Dot is set in West Philly, it’s an African-American family, and it’s right before Christmas. Dot (Kathryn Hunter-Williams) has Alzheimer’s, and the family is all coming home for the holiday, and of course the big question is, ‘What are we going to do about this?’

“Everybody has an opinion about it,” Watson explains, “and no one is really talking about it in a way that is productive. So, that is the big question of the play: ‘What to do with aging family members in a way that is both respectful and useful to that family member and her children?’ Her children are also adults, and they’re going through their own life crises. It’s holidays; everyone is in crisis.”

Besides PlayMakers Rep regular Kathryn Hunter-Williams the show also stars Rasool Jahan as Shelly, Leighton Brown as Jackie, Samuel Ray Gates as Donnie, Adam Poole as Adam, Rishan Dhamija as Fidel, and Shanelle Nicole-Leonard as Averie.

Nicole Watson notes, “This production was imagined long before I was involved, but that also means that part of the pressure had come off to figure it out. Because someone else was like, ‘This is what your house looks like.’ But there were a couple of things that we had to talk about, to make sure that it would work for what we were doing. Logistically, figuring out the staircase. What was needed for that, what would be needed backstage … because it’s very realistic, there are a lot of small details that you’re trying to troubleshoot, but it wasn’t that hard, you know?”

She adds, “There’s only one idea I couldn’t get behind, but it wasn’t like I was negating an idea everybody else was really a fan of. That sort of made it easy to say, ‘Maybe we don’t worry about that one.’ If it had been liked by everybody but me, maybe that would’ve been a different issue.

“There’s also a lot of overlapping in multiple conversations,” says Watson, “so part of the task of fine tuning is, someone says a line and you’re like, ‘Who are you talking to?’ When there are four people in the room and two to three conversations happening, part of the work … was like, ‘Just point to whoever you think you’re talking to’ and then when they didn’t know…. You know. So, in rehearsal you’re always trying to expose the thing that’s not working.

“That’s the thing I’m always trying to find, is what is the line that doesn’t make any sense right now?” says Watson. “What is the thing that looks ugly? My job is to look for all the holes and all the weaknesses and try to get them out before previews.”

In addition to director Nicole Watson and PlayMakers Rep producing artistic director Vivienne Benesch, the PRC creative team for Dot includes production manager Michael Rolleri, assistant director Abbey Toot, scenic designer McKay Coble, lighting designer Kathy A. Perkins, costume designer Grier Coleman, sound designer Adam Bintz, vocal coach John Patrick, movement coach Tracey Bersley, dramaturg Jacqueline E. Lawton, stage manager Elizabeth Ray, assistant stage managers Charles K. Bayang and Jennifer Caster.

“[Dramatist] Colman [Domingo] describes the kitchen at the beginning of the play, to a certain extent,” says set designer McKay Coble. “It’s a Philadelphia row house. It’s the Huxtable’s. Together, we all agreed that this play would be best served by doing it realistically. So, my job is to look around and find this house that Dot and her family are living in in Philadelphia. The playwright gives us clues as to where it is and how old it is and how long the family has been living there.

“What’s fun about it now is that we get to flesh it out,” says Coble. “We know that Jason is nine years old, so I ask, ‘What does he call his grandmother?’ so I can draw like a nine-year-old boy and put all those drawings, all those school papers on the fridge, because you know they’d be there.”

Coble adds, “It’s for us to then create a family home with photographs and school pictures and furniture they’ve collected in their travels and pots and pans and all the things that they have used. The kids grew up in this house, they’ve jumped on the couch — the couch looks like it’s been jumped on.

“My job has been to recreate that,” says McKay Coble. “It’s really two parts of the house: first we see the kitchen and then we have to see the living room. And in our space [the audience is] all on three sides, and we have to have that shift right there in front of [them].”

Costume designer Grier Coleman says, “My process is a little different on a show with modern costumes. For a typical show, I’d go to the history books, art, and whatnot. I’ll research things [people were wearing in whatever time period]. But with this one, we have actors who are wearing the clothes that they kind of wear every day.”

She adds, “You’ve got the challenge of representing many types of different people on stage. Making people up, making people different than they are in real life. But the process is a little different.

“On a period show,” Coleman says, “I would research and do sketches. But for this one I go out to the mall and try to find clothes that represent who these people are. I will do a research collage of different kinds of people, a collage of what I feel like each character would wear. You kind of create a ‘rack’ of clothing that you and the actor can shop from, and then you create the different looks.”

Director Nicole Watson says, “I think it’s a really fantastic rehearsal room. And I think this play is just for everyone. Some plays, you’re trying to find something relatable or universal and this one is easy access. I just think everybody — whether they’re still in your life or you’re estranged from them or whatever, everybody has a mom.”

She adds, “Everybody has a mom. The play’s about memory, and I think it’s been conjuring up all sorts of memories for all of us. I think if we had more time to just, talk, we probably would. Like, ‘I remember this Christmas,’ or ‘I remember when someone…’ you know? I think it definitely is a very universal play.

“I think the holidays is usually when families get together, if they don’t see each other on a regular basis,” says Watson. “You want it to be positive, but if it’s the only time, then you have to talk about some things that maybe you don’t want to talk about. It’s this pressure to have it be positive, but also there’s a pressure to say what needs to be said.”

SECOND OPINION: Nov. 15, 2017 Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/dot/Event?oid=7494211; and March 25, 2015 New York, NY American Theatre interview with playwright Colman Domingo, conducted by Erin Courtney and Jen Silverman: http://www.americantheatre.org/2015/03/25/humana-2015-in-dot-colman-domingo-combines-dementia-and-laughs/.

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents DOT at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 22 and 24 Previews, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 25 Opening Night, 2 p.m. Nov. 26, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 28-Dec 1, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec 2, 2 p.m. Dec. 3, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5-9, and 2 p.m. Dec. 10 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $15-$48 ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), with discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel, except $15 general admission ($10 for UNC students with ID) on Community Night (Tuesday, Nov. 28th).

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or https://tickets.playmakersrep.org/.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/box-office/groups-and-special-events/.

SHOW: http://playmakersrep.org/show/dot/, https://www.facebook.com/events/182534565644065/ (Nov. 22nd and 24th Previews), and https://www.facebook.com/events/1636785756343496/.

2017-18 SEASON: https://playmakersrep.org/season/2017-2018-season/

PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.

PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.

VENUE: http://playmakersrep.org/aboutus/paulgreen.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo.

NOTE 1: Playmakers Rep cautions parents: Dot is recommended for audiences 16 and older, due to language and adult situations.

NOTE 2: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.

NOTE 3: There will be a gala opening-night performance, starting at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 25th.

NOTE 4: There will be an All-Access Performance, with sign-language interpretation and audio description by Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 28th.

NOTE 5: There will be FREE post-show discussions, with members of the cast and creative team, following the show’s 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3rd, performances.

NOTE 6: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 2nd (for more information, click here).

NOTE 7: The North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor FREE post-show Mindplay a psychoanalytic discussion on “Family and Identity, Memory and Its Loss,” led by Peter Buonaccorsi, MD, after the show’s 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10th, performance.

OTHER LINKS:

Dot (2015 Humana Festival of New American Plays comedy): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/60374/dot (Samuel French, Inc.) and http://www.colmandomingo.com/writer/theater/ (Coleman Domingo’s web page).

Colman Domingo (Philadelphia, PA-born playwright and screenwriter): http://www.colmandomingo.com/ (official website), http://playmakersrep.org/artists/colman-domingo/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/colman-domingo-417633 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0231458/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/Colman-Domingo-155528077830899/ (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/colmandomingo (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colman_Domingo (Wikipedia).

Nicole A. Watson (Brooklyn, NY-based freelance director and educator): http://www.nicoleawatson.com/ (official website), http://www.playmakersrep.org/artists/nicole-a-watson/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), http://www.kennedy-center.org/Artist/A91174 (Kennedy Center bio), and http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/36708 (Internet Off-Broadway Database).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing robertm748@aol.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail robertm748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

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