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PlayMakers Rep Eschews Holiday Schmaltz in Favor of Colman Domingo’s Tragicomic Dot

<em>Dot</em> stars Rishan Dhamija as Fidel and Kathryn Hunter-Williams as Dotty (photo by HuthPhoto)

Dot stars Rishan Dhamija as Fidel and Kathryn Hunter-Williams as Dotty (photo by HuthPhoto)

I have stood in this kitchen. I have had these conversations. I have experienced these fears and joys. You might have, too.

Philadelphia, PA-born African-American playwright and screenwriter Colman Domingo’s realistic tragicomedy Dot is running at PlayMakers Repertory Company through Dec. 10th. Domingo, a Tony Award®-nominated actor, dancer, director, and playwright, has crafted characters that, when described, appear caricaturish: the stubborn mother, the type-A lawyer daughter, the wayward kid sister, the interracial gay couple, the neurotic Jewish 40-something, and the immigrant houseboy.

But he uses these descriptors as a launching pad from which to develop dynamic, engaging, relatable human beings. The play’s main conflict is simple: our middle-aged mother is succumbing to Alzheimer’s Disease, making for a not-so-merry West Philly Family Christmas.

This would not likely make for much more than a one-act play. But dramatist Colman Domingo, a self-described “collector of stories,” infuses the narrative with subplots and side conversations that turn a thin plot line into a rich, flavorful story.

Rasool Jahan (left) and Samuel Ray Gates star as Shelly and Donnie (photo by HuthPhoto)

Rasool Jahan (left) and Samuel Ray Gates star as Shelly and Donnie (photo by HuthPhoto)

McKay Coble’s impressive two-sided set captured all the details of my grandmother’s house: cupboards stuffed with cereal, a kids’ height chart on the kitchen wall, crayon artwork on the fridge, new furnishings mixed with old, and a rotary phone.

Grier Coleman’s costumes and Kathy A. Perkins’ lighting design are well-suited and not distracting, and sound designer Adam Bintz admirably mixes a wealth of recorded Christmas music and a live electric piano.

Kathryn Hunter-Williams gives an exemplary, nuanced performance as fading matriarch Dotty. She communicates the devastating effects of dementia with the subtlest of mannerisms and then believably descends from loving — though exasperating — mother into the world of confusion, fear, anger, and embarrassment that is life with Alzheimer’s.

Rasool Jahan makes a disagreeable character sympathetic with her dynamic portrayal of Dotty’s oldest daughter — the controlling Shelly. Shanelle Nicole-Leonard injects welcome hilarity as younger sister Averie, the sassy, hair-flipping hot mess.

PlayMakers Repertory Company's presentation of Dot by Colman Domingo stars (from left) Samuel Ray Gates as Donnie, Shanelle Nicole Leonard as Averie, and Rasool Jahan as Shelly (photo by HuthPhoto)

PlayMakers Rep’s presentation of Dot by Colman Domingo stars (from left) Samuel Ray Gates as Donnie, Shanelle Nicole Leonard as Averie, and Rasool Jahan as Shelly (photo by HuthPhoto)

The playwright has harnessed his own experiences as a gay African-American man to create Donnie — Dotty’s gay son and “Golden Boy” — played with subtlety by Samuel Ray Gates, opposite an understated Adam Poole as his concerned husband Adam. An entertaining Leighton Brown plays family friend Jackie with perfectly timed delivery, and Rishan Dhamija is convincing as Dotty’s meek Kazakhstani “helper” Fidel.

Under the careful direction of the accomplished Nicole A. Watson, the already accessible characters become sharply relatable. She steers her actors clear of schmaltz during emotional moments and staves off silliness in the comedic ones, consistently favoring honesty over cheap laughs and forced tears.

Given the play’s apparent simplicity, I had anticipated a tolerable, sitcom-style family Christmas comedy; but I received so much more: a stirring conversation about memory, marriage, race, sexuality, death, and the traditions we take for granted. Playwright Colman Domingo is not afraid to ask the tough questions. Nor is he afraid to leave them unanswered.

Kathryn Hunter-Williams (left), Rasool Jahan (center), and Rishan Dhamija star as Dotty, Shelly, and Fidel in PlayMakers Rep's Nov. 22-Dec. 10 regional premiere of <em>Dot</em> (photo by HuthPhoto)

Kathryn Hunter-Williams (left), Rasool Jahan (center), and Rishan Dhamija star as Dotty, Shelly, and Fidel in PlayMakers Rep’s Nov. 22-Dec. 10 regional premiere of Dot (photo by HuthPhoto)

SECOND OPINION: Nov. 28, 2017 Raleigh, NC Talkin’ Broadway: Raleigh/Durham review by Garrett Southerland: https://www.talkinbroadway.com/page/regional/rd/rd33.html; Nov. 26, 2017 Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8739; Nov. 26, 2017 Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) preview by Ally Churchill: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2017/11/playmakers-dot-preview-1126; 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/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Nov. 22nd Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/11/colman-domingos-dot-at-playmakers-rep-is-a-dizzy-dysfunctional-family-reunion-to-remember/.)

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents DOT at 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/ 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 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 4: 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 5: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 2nd (for more information, click here).

NOTE 6: 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:

Dustin K. Britt, a Triangle native, is an actor and director. He holds an M.A.Ed. in Special Education from East Carolina University and teaches locally. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment. You can find him on Facebook as Dustin K. Britt and via his movie blog Hold the Popcorn.

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