Dallas — Soul Rep Theatre Company is the first local company to produce a work by playwright, actor and director Colman Domingo, opening the regional premiere of his play Dot this weekend. Domingo, who was born in Belize, has a lengthy résumé of Broadway, off-Broadway and TV, including appearing in the original Broadway production of Passing Strange. He's probably best known as Victor in Fear the Walking Dead.
The setting of the story is in Philadelphia, two days before Christmas — but this is not a Christmas story. It is a dramatic comedy about the temporariness of memory as experienced by a family watching their matriarch fade into Alzheimer’s haze. Domingo’s story was informed by his observations of four female friends who were each navigating their mothers’ struggles with Alzheimer’s. Dot is about family.
We checked in with director Anyika McMillan-Herod to see how things are going. The production at South Dallas Cultural Center, has the ensemble of Catherine Whiteman, Renee Miche’al, Yusef Miller, Brandy Kae, Jaquai Wade, Satchel Victory, and Sergio Garcia.
TheaterJones: There was once a dearth of pieces about senior citizen cognitive decline but that is changing. There is now a growing library of plays about dementia or Alzheimer’s. Why did Soul Rep select this particular play and for this time?
Anyika McMillan-Herod: We are fans of Colman Domingo’s work. We are committed as a company to introducing North Texas audiences to these other wonderful voices in the theatre world. Coleman is definitely on that list.
Also, it is such a relevant play. Almost every member of our family has been impacted by Alzheimer’s or dementia: my father-in-law, my aunt recently passed away, our stage manager’s mother is suffering with it now. It’s a reality. We feel that the playwright has such a unique spin on telling the story. This is a serial comedy. You will laugh, but you will cry quite a bit as well. It is a beautiful way of approaching this subject matter which we believe will resonate with audiences as much as it is resonating with all of us personally.
Of the characters in the family, whose story is the playwright trying to tell?
Oh Donnie’s of course. It’s really the family’s story but it is telling the story of Alzheimer’s and the family drama through the lens of one of the children. We empathize greatly with Shelly who is one of the caretakers. We feel her pain and frustration. Donnie is having his own personal struggles and Averie is having her challenges.
What I found as the director (and as a playwright interpreting it) is that they’re all grieving again. They have the weight of the father’s passing which happened years ago. They’ve had to grieve him again through their mother’s constant bringing up the dad.
With Alzheimer’s we are mourning people as they are living as they are fading away from who they are. So it’s really about a family facing the loss of parents in the midst of their own transitions in their lives.
I think life is a serial comedy. Telling the story in this way people of all ages and backgrounds will relate. Hopefully it will bring about healing too.
With a piece like this which has comedy and drama, What was the most important element you were looking for in actors?
I was looking for actors who were very strong dramatically and comedically. In particular, I sought those who have that comedic sensibility naturally. I think people overlook the brilliance and technique that comes forth with comedic acting. Comedic actors can be stronger because they’re towing that line in a different way.
I have a dream cast. Donnie (Yusef Miller), a gay man newly married to Adam (Sergio Garcia), is dealing with his own mid-life crisis. Shelley (Renee Miche'al) is raising a son alone and trying to be the main caretaker for the mother, Dotty (Catherine Whiteman). Averie (Jaquai Wade) is trying to find her place in the world as that quintessential millennial. I love the multi-cultural aspect of this piece too, and that was another reason we wanted to produce it. Dot is multi-generational, multi-racial. It is a human story. We have Brandy Kae, who was recently in Jonathan Norton’s A Love Offering, as Jackie and Satchel Page as Fidel.
Why is music is so important to the playwright and to this story?
Because this is a play about memory and remembering. Dot is the music of this play. Music is integral to the story, setting the mood and informing the memory not just Dotty but the children as well. It’s so nice to see that toward the end of the play, Donnie is forced to play the piano again.
What would you like to make sure the audience knows?
For Soul Rep our ethos is that we do not create art just for entertainment. We believe art is for life’s sake, helping people to communicate better and to heal.
I hope the takeaway is that families, individuals including caretakers who are facing this, can know they are not alone in this horrific journey called dementia or Alzheimer’s and watching their loved ones fade. Families have each other. Family can be anything. Friends can become surrogate family. Ultimately, those managing such crises can know they can look to others to be a part of your shared family experience. You should be open to know you can look to others to be a part of your shared family experience in facing something like this.
We’re very excited and passionate about this production.