This year has been a doozy. Before 2016 became The Notorious 2016, some of Baltimore’s most consistently stellar theater companies slated productions to run at the end of the year with themes like sexual assault, eating disorders, Marxist feminism, soulless capitalism, and the overall inherent badness of people. All provided thought-provoking theater, but not exactly feel-good subject matters.
Thank goodness for the play about an elderly woman struggling with Alzheimer’s to bring some joy to area theater-goers. Yes, Everyman Theatre’s production of Dot, about a Philadelphia matriarch and her grown children grappling with her dementia, is exactly the gasp of fresh air this year could use. Written by contemporary playwright Colman Domingo, the play is refreshing in its ability to bring humor, humanity, and hope to a disheartening situation.
In a year that seems to have dragged a lot of people over emotional asphalt, Dot gives you some wheels to ride the bumpy road. Sometimes life sucks. Sometimes families aren’t as close as Gilmore Girls leads us to believe they should be. People get diseases, they age, they die. (A lot of people seemed shocked by that this year: People die.) But, Dot shows that even when you’re mixing strong screwdrivers at 10 a.m. because your hair colorist is incompetent and your mother forgets who you are sometimes (like Dottie’s oldest daughter, Shelly, played by the always brilliant Dawn Ursula), you can have some good times, too. You can dance with your flamboyant YouTube star sister and struggling music critic gay brother in one of the most exhuberant pieces of choreography this side of La La Land.
A wonderfully expressive Sharon Hope plays Dottie with a dexterity that brings the frustration of Alzheimer’s directly to your tear ducts, and then she bumps you back from the edge of sadness with killer deliveries like her description of Shelly as an “angry pineapple.” It’s Domingo’s constant thread of joy and humor through all the other crap that makes Dot so entertaining. He doesn’t ignore the rough aspects of life, but he makes sure you understand there’s good stuff, too.
Domingo gave Baltimore audiences another jubilant show in Center Stage’s 2014 production of his Wild with Happy, about a gay black man who takes his estranged, dying mother to Disney World. Like Dot, its theme doesn’t sound all that entertaining on the surface, but also like Dot, it was laugh-out-loud, let-the-tears-come, stand-up-on-your-feet-at-the-end good.
It’s been a contemplative year, and Dot reminded us not to take it so seriously, even though there was some serious stuff. The show probably has some production flaws, but seeing the play on opening night was a true joy: the hilarious and heartbreaking performances, the attractive set, and the energized directing. When the show ended, the audience jumped to its feet as a thank you for the gift of this entertaining, meaningful production.
The show takes life and twists it around so all its realities are on display, then lovingly puts it back on the table to be enjoyed family-style. The Baltimore theater community feels like family, and Dot was the gathering we all needed at the end of this year.