You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Off Broadway Review: ‘Dot’ by Colman Domingo

Marjorie Johnson, Colin Hanlon, Stephen Conrad Moore, Libya V. Pugh, Michael Rosen, Finnerty Steeves, Sharon Washington.

A contentious family grappling with a matriarch’s dementia over the Christmas holiday might not seem an obvious template for humor, but in “Dot,” playwright Colman Domingo sees the absurdity and the human comedy in the messy, volatile, all-too-real family dynamic. Though the show, premiering at Off Broadway’s Vineyard Theater, occasionally veers to the maudlin, there’s much authentic emotion and comfort in this loss-of-memory tale. Problem is, the playwrights stuffs his overlong play with enough plotting, themes and mid-life crises for multiple works, and the usually savvy helmer Susan Stroman mis-dials the acting to an unvarying degree.

In this companion piece to Domingo’s autobiographical “A Boy and His Soul” and “Wild With Happy,” something is a little off about Dotty, the wide-eyed, feisty matriarch of a black, middle-class West Philadelphia family. At first it appears her adult daughter, lawyer Shelly (Sharon Washington), is over-reacting to anything her mother says or does, but it soon becomes clear that there’s a good reason for her stressed-out behavior: Though at times lucid and wickedly funny — she compares her daughter’s new hairstyle to “a mean pineapple” – Dotty shows increasing signs of Alzheimer’s.

Adding stress are Shelly’s siblings, who are too self-involved in their own lives to accept what is happening and help their sister share the burden of dealing with their quickly-declining, widowed mother.

Shelly is at a near-hysterical level even before once-golden-boy brother Donnie (Stephen Conrad Moore, solid) and husband Adam (Colin Hanlon, the likable in-law) arrive for a holiday visit from New York City. It’s hard to focus on mom when the men are having marital issues of intimacy and choice (Donnie wants to settle down with kids; Adam wants to stay young, free and slim), not to mention edgy from being on the last days of a juice cleanse.

Younger sister Averie (Libya V. Puch), whose diva personality overwhelms any room she’s in, is struggling to regain her celebrity after fleeting YouTube stardom. Meanwhile, neighborhood friend Jackie (Finnerty Steeves, very funny in her state of quiet desperation) has gotten pregnant at 40 by a married man. Leaving her job in a panic, she find herself in the old neighborhood at her own personal crossroad.

Giving the house some sense of normalcy is Dotty’s home-care provider Fidel (Michael Rosen, in a lovely, understated performance), a sweet soul from Kazakhstan who seems the only one to understand and empathize with Dotty.

Stroman — who directed Domingo in “The Scottsboro Boys,” which also began at the Vineyard — helms with a bright broadness that punches the laughs but sometimes brings the work to a sitcom level. Only when the production takes a breather from the fraught storylines does the play find its focus, and its heart.

A scene between Fidel and Dotty, where the mother confides her fears, is presented simply and truthfully. And a moment where an old song gives Dotty a wondrous sense of escape — when Adam lovingly steps in as her imagined dead husband and we glimpse Dotty in her younger glory — is exquisite, tapping into Stroman’s musical staging gifts.

Johnson brings nuance and clarity to her role as Dotty struggles between two worlds drifting further and further apart, with a defiant intent to keep as many pieces of her family’s life connected as long as possible.

But as the character who has to quickly come to terms with life on many levels, it’s really Shelly’s play. Washington is at times unnervingly brittle in her efforts to control the uncontrollable. But she also reveals a child-like vulnerability when her hard shell is shattered by a stray remark from her now-lost mother, or when she gracefully embraces the difficult but human journey the entire family has to take together.

Off Broadway Review: 'Dot' by Colman Domingo

Vineyard Theatre; 199 seats, $85 top. Opened Feb. 23, 2016; Reviewed Feb. 24. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.

Production: A presentation by the Vineyard Theatre of a play in two acts by Colman Domingo.

Creative: Directed by Susan Stroman. Sets, Allen Moyer; costumes, Kara Harmon; lighting, Ben Stanton; sound, Tom Morse; production stage manager, Roy Harris.

Cast: Marjorie Johnson, Colin Hanlon, Stephen Conrad Moore, Libya V. Pugh, Michael Rosen, Finnerty Steeves, Sharon Washington.

More Legit

  • Annette Bening

    Star-Studded Cast to Perform Live Reading of the Mueller Report

    Haven’t perused the Mueller report yet? A star-studded cast, including Annette Bening, Kevin Kline, and John Lithgow, can read it to you. For one night only on Monday, June 24, stars will perform a live reading of passages from the Mueller report for “The Investigation: A Search for the Truth in Ten Acts,” Robert Schenkkan’s [...]

  • Paula Vogel Never Expected 'Indecent' to

    Paula Vogel Never Expected 'Indecent' to Be This Timely

    When Paula Vogel began writing “Indecent” in 2010, she had no idea how resonant its exploration of immigration woes, anti-Semitism and homophobia in the past century would become in the current political climate. The Tony-nominated play, running until July 7 at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theater, traces the theatrical history of 1907 Yiddish play “God of Vengeance” [...]

  • Bitter Wheat review

    West End Review: John Malkovich in David Mamet's 'Bitter Wheat'

    How soon is too soon? Hardly a year had passed since allegations against Harvey Weinstein were made public before David Mamet announced that his satire on the subject, “Bitter Wheat,” was set to star John Malkovich in the West End. Six months later, we’re sat watching a corpulent, super-rich movie mogul — Barney Fein (cough, [...]

  • Batman Julia Roberts Spike Lee

    Batman, Julia Roberts, Spike Lee Among 2020 Walk of Fame Honorees

    Batman, Julia Roberts and Spike Lee are among the names selected to be inducted into the 2020 Walk of Fame. The full list of honorees was announced by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s Walk of Fame Selection Committee via an exclusive livestream by Variety. Chosen from hundreds of nominees during a selection meeting in June, [...]

  • Tracy Letts

    Tracy Letts' Comedy 'The Minutes' to Hit Broadway in 2020

    Playwright Tracy Letts’ comedy “The Minutes” will hit the Broadway stage in Feb. 2020. “The Minutes,” written by actor, producer and playwright Letts, is a comedy taking a look at the current state of American politics through the lens of a small, fictional town called Big Cherry. The play is set in a city council [...]

  • Jamie Forshaw Tapped as Executive Producer

    Jamie Forshaw Tapped as Executive Producer of MWM Live (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jamie Forshaw has been named executive producer of MWM Live, Variety has learned. The theater veteran most recently served as VP of production for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group. In his new role, he will oversee MWM Live’s slate of stage productions with an emphasis on expanding the division’s work on Broadway. MWM Live [...]

  • A Midsummer Night's Dream review

    London Theater Review: 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

    “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” can be many things. There are earthy “Dreams,” airy “Dreams,” saucy “Dreams” and sweet “Dreams.” It’s Shakespeare’s most malleable play. Nicholas Hytner’s new staging strives to set itself apart, plunging its immersive audience into a festival-style fairy kingdom and casting the ethereal, white-blonde Gwendoline Christie (fresh off “Game of Thrones”) as [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content