by Beki Pineda

DOT – Written by Colman Domingo; Directed by Mykai Eastman. Produced by Vintage Theatre (1468 Dayton, Aurora) through December 18. Tickets available at 303-856-7830 or vintagetheatre.org.

Each and every family has its own dynamic – its own way of dealing with the individual members – its own set of interpersonal relationships. It’s not unusual to prefer one parent or one sibling over another – to favor one son or daughter over another. Which makes family gatherings like the holidays a hotbed for familial conflicts as they face the changes that have occurred since the last gathering of the tribe.

Such is the case with Dot’s family. Dot is the matriarch of a group that includes two daughters, one son and his partner, and an unseen grandchild. Only the caretaker daughter Shelly is aware of the depth of her mother’s slide into Alzheimer’s. Dot’s dementia is a roller coaster experience for Dot and those around her. Shelly has dealt with it long enough for it to be familiar and hyper-irritating. To son Donnie, this is a surprise and a dismay when he comes back from New York with his partner Adam for the holidays. The second daughter Averie lives in Shelly’s basement and keeps herself out of Mom’s day-to-day drama. Only a professional part-time caregiver Fidel shows any comprehension and patience with Dot’s condition. The three siblings finally convene and come face to face with the dilemma that is “What to do with Mom?”

What results is an extraordinary Christmas story. In spite of the initial anger and frustration pictured in the first act, a surprising experiment illustrates the inner turmoil of encroaching dementia in a way that brings understanding and empathy. There’s no getting around it – this is a hard show to watch – especially if you are nearing the age of potential impairment yourself or if you have witnessed a parent or sibling struggle through this. But the show offers hope for families with their own Dots. The arguments and noise of the first act resolves into a newfound ability to quietly observe and listen in the second act. There is a lesson to be learned in watching a group become a family again.

The absolutely amazing actress Latifah Johnson plays Dot with both dignity and anxiety. She is present a great deal of the time but will occasionally drift off into the past. The wistful expression in her face as she remembers her youth and better times is the sweetest thing you can imagine. No wonder she gets angry and frustrated when the noise of her children pulls her back to the present. ShaShauna Staton as the stay-at-home caretaker daughter attacks her part in the family drama with defensiveness and frustration. She is both the Mama Bear fighting for her mother’s care and the Baby Bear fearful of losing what is most dear to her. Jedonn Bell is the mostly absent son facing a trauma with his partner (Phil Luna) as well as the unexpected chaos at his homestead. His willingness to take part in an immersive experiment is what enlightens them all to what Dot’s life is like now. Kenya Fashaw plays the flighty Averie who is convinced as long as she remains optimistic and ignores the obvious, everything will be fine. Phil Luna gives a quiet steady performance as Adam, Donnie’s partner, who is puzzled by all the sturm and drang going on around him and seems to see only an old woman who needs quiet understanding.  Sarah Duttlinger adds even more confusion to the scenario by appearing as the girl next door with a lifelong crush on Donnie, even knowing he was gay. A stronger cast led by the gifted Johnson you will not find.

Mykai Eastman’s strong hand and clear vision guided this performance to a satisfying conclusion. The simple set of well-worn furniture and mementos suited the family home well.  The change-over at intermission from one room in the house to another required a crew of three to complete in fifteen minutes.  But Max Suda, Iliana Lucero and Gib Smith pulled it off.

If you long for sugar plum fairies and mistletoe, this is not the show for you.  If you want a solid, thoughtful family holiday drama, you will find it here.

A WOW factor of 8!

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