Review: Ground Floor Theatre’s Dot

An authentic albeit imbalanced emotional journey into dementia

Michelle Alexander (left) as Shelly and Melody Fullylove as Dotty in Ground Floor Theatre’s production of Dot (Photo by Cindy Elizabeth)

There’s been a lot of debate of late, among entertainment industry members and advocacy groups, about whether LGBTQ+ characters on the stage and screen should only be played by LGBTQ+ actors.

It’s all about representation and authenticity. Similar discussions have been launched regarding the portrayal of characters with physical challenges and those with a defining race or ethnicity.

As baby-boomer writers find themselves coping with parents with Alzheimer’s, characters in the throes of the disease are getting their fair share of representation, particularly off-Broadway in recent productions of The Humans, Her Requiem, Smokefall, and Colman Domingo’s provocative Dot.

Domingo’s comedy-drama, which made its New York debut in 2016 and is receiving a fine production from East Austin’s Ground Floor Theatre, revolves around a contentious, black, middle-class family. Its members have returned to their West Philadelphia home for Christmas dinner and are grappling with their feisty matriarch’s dementia.

“When the character is lucid, Melody Fullylove is wickedly funny. When Dotty’s world becomes more and more disjointed and distant, Fullylove brings nuance and honesty to the role.”
No one expects an actor riddled with Alzheimer’s to take on the title role in this play. But whoever does bears the burden of accurately capturing the emotional pain and frustration associated with the progressive and irreversible loss of memory and reasoning. Ground Floor Theatre’s Melody Fullylove’s magnificent depiction of Dotty achieves this, and more. When the character is lucid, Fullylove is wickedly funny. When Dotty's world becomes more and more disjointed and distant, Fullylove brings nuance and honesty to the role. Dotty’s defiant but futile attempt to keep the memories of her family as close and connected as possible for as long as it’s possible – some of which are prominently represented by artifacts in designers Gary Thornsberry (scenic), Amber Whatley (lighting), and Kelsey Moringy’s (properties) detailed rendering of the family’s kitchen and living room – is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking.

So, too, are the moments of reckoning when Dotty’s self-obsessed children set aside their own fraught storylines and come to terms with her symptoms and care. As her 45-year-old daughter, Shelly, Michelle Alexander’s transition from overwhelmed and resentful caregiver to relieved team player is brilliant (in fact, everything she does is). Jeremy Rashad Brown, as Shelly’s younger brother Donnie, and Grayson Hunt, as his white husband Adam, arrive from out of town for the holiday visit lost in the minutiae of marital discord. But when an old song playing in the background triggers a memory for Dotty that she gets lost in, Adam steps in as her imagined dead husband and the two of them dance. Hunt’s tender performance and Brown’s loving reaction to it are exquisite. The moving moments of awakening turned in by Oktavea LaToi, as unfiltered younger sister and YouTube diva celebrity Averie, and Patti A. Neff-Tiven, as white, single, and pregnant neighborhood friend Jackie, add layers of heart to this production.

If you are not crying during this production, it is not because director Lisa B. Thompson did not work hard enough with her actors to find all the right emotional buttons and push them at all the right times. But if you are not laughing, it may be because the rest of the play – particularly the comedy – did not get the same attention. On opening night, pauses killed punchlines, and Neff-Tiven’s emotionally-fragile-to-the-point-of-implosion performance as Jackie and LaToi’s explosive and wildly over-the-top depiction of Averie – both of which were built for laughs – were so out of sync with others on stage that they seemed to belong in a different play. Poor Jeremy Canales, gentle and understated in his portrayal of Dotty’s part-time Kazakhstanian caregiver, Fidel, gets lost in the crossfire, as does Fullylove’s often soft-spoken line delivery.

In Thompson’s defense, Dot is an unnecessarily long, overly complex family portrait that weaves its way through too many tangential storylines. It also employs way too much dialogue along the way – some of it in overlapping sequences that come across as inorganic – in an apparent effort to balance the tragic with the comedic. Too much dialogue is the last thing one would expect from Domingo, who co-wrote the astoundingly anemic Summer: The Donna Summer Musical that recently line hustled its way through Austin on national tour. It's a lot to handle for a directorial debut.

But in those moments when the actors take a deep breath and arrive on the same page in terms of their performances, and when the focus once again returns to Dotty and her dementia, this production is close to perfect.


Ground Floor Theatre, 979 Springdale,
Through May 28
Running time: 2 hrs., 45 mins

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Dot, Colman Domingo, Ground Floor Theatre

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