During this dark and chilly holiday season, Everyman Theatre’s production of Coleman Domingo’s “Dot,” directed by Everyman founder and artistic director Vincent M. Lancisi, highlights the importance of family and maintaining positivity during troubling times.

The play’s central characters are members of an upper middle-class, African-American family in Philadelphia. The family’s widowed matriarch Dotty Shealy, played by Sharon Hope, clings desperately to fading memories after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Her eldest daughter Shelly (Dawn Ursula), an attorney and mother, uproots her own life to serve as Dotty’s caretaker.

The play begins with the return of estranged family friend Jackie (Megan Anderson), whose initial confusion over the changed circumstances in the Shealy household brings everything into focus for the audience. Although Dotty has three children, “golden child” Donnie (Yaegel T. Welch), an unemployed musicologist, and washed-up YouTube star Averie (Paige Hernandez) live out of town and are largely out of the picture.

Shelly alone faces the enormous challenge of maintaining both her mother’s mental wellbeing and her own. Meanwhile, Donnie and Avery have their own personal domestic and professional challenges.

But with the holiday season upon them, Averie, Donnie and Donnie’s husband, Adam (Rob Jansen), come home and see Dotty’s troubling situation. Against the bright lights and joyful carols of the Christmas season, they all attempt to look beyond their personal sufferings and learn to collectively cope with the family’s hardships.

Domingo’s play, while lengthy and at times a bit tiresome, is dynamic. The dialogue is fast-paced, and the characters are often quite blunt and profane in expressing themselves. At the drop of a hat, scenes frequently shift from gravely serious to hilariously entertaining.

Such sharp shifts control the piece, keeping the audience’s focus and preventing the play from drifting into tired sitcom territory. Also enjoyable are the frequent musical interludes: a dance number between Adam and Dotty, a piano performance of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Donnie, and an impromptu dance by the Shealy children.

Each major cast member turns in a singularly sterling performance. The always marvelous Dawn Ursula shines in her portrayal of daughter-turned-caretaker Shelly. Ursula’s performance clearly demonstrates Shelly’s ultimate conflict — her obligation toward her mother and tending to her needs versus taking care of herself.

Welch’s Donnie and Jansen’s Adam exemplify a pair of individuals in a complex relationship attempting against all odds to remain together. Megan Anderson typifies the “outsider looking in” as Jackie, striking a key balance between utter confusion and total comfort.

Paige Hernandez’s exuberant Averie gives the play’s second act a much-needed infusion of energy. So does the introduction of Fidel, Dotty’s Kazakhstani caretaker, played by Ryan Carlo Dalusung. Dalusung’s performance conveys a stoicism that serves as a foil to the madness of the other characters.

As Dotty, Sharon Hope gives a standout performance, a heartbreakingly authentic depiction of a loveable woman attempting to preserve — through photos, tape recordings and verbal repetition — her younger, healthier self.

One moment Hope’s mind is sharp as a tack; the next, she is disoriented, unable remember where she is and what she is doing. The surprising-yet-honest wit and lack of self-absorption that Hope brings to Dotty cannot help but touch an audience member’s heart.

Everyman’s “Dot” is a thoroughly successful expression of holiday theater, highlighting the joys and difficulties of an aging, troubled multi-generational family.

“Dot” will be presented at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Lafayette St., through Jan. 8. For information, call 410-752-2208 or visit http://everymantheatre.org/

 Xandra Ellin is a Jmore editorial staff intern.

Shown In Top Photo (left to right): Dawn Ursula, Paige Hernandez and Yaegel T. Welch.

Bottom Photo (left to right): Yaegel T. WelchDawn Ursula, Sharon Hope, Ryan Carlo Dalusung, and Paige Hernandez as Averie

Photos Credit: Stan Barouh Photography

 

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