Family Christmases are supposed to be happy times, but they can often dissolve into yelling and crying over unresolved issues. Yet somehow families carry on because of their common bonds.
That’s the core of Colman Domingo’s sprawling 2015 comedy-drama, “Dot.” There’s something everyone can relate to in it, especially in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s warm, funny production.
After her husband died, Dotty had to raise her children alone in their black middle-class Philadelphia neighborhood. Now she has Alzheimer’s, and it’s fallen to Shelley, her lawyer daughter and single mom, to care for her.
Shelley has hired a part-time caretaker, Fidel, a Kazakhstan immigrant, but she resents that sister Averie is too concerned with becoming a celebrity to be much help. She’s also ticked that brother Donnie, living in New York City with his husband Adam, is too wrapped up in music journalism to help physically or financially. At this particular Christmas, there’s extra tension because decisions need to be made about Dotty’s long-term situation.
The family gets an unexpected visit from former neighbor Jackie, who has fled from New York City because she’s pregnant by a married man. She was Donnie’s girlfriend years ago and still holds a flame for him. With everyone assembled, things quickly go off the rails with multiple recriminations and accusations.
Domingo, a Tony-nominated actor who is a regular in AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead,” has a talent for writing believable characters and a knack for knee-slapping punch lines. He can also touch the heart with sincere moments of emotion and tenderness.
However, at two hours and 40 minutes, including intermission, the play is burdened with lengthy expository scenes overemphasizing the obvious and unnecessarily repeated later on. Domingo also wedges in too many social, political and psychological points that don’t get developed, distracting from the play’s key issues.
The production’s fine cast keeps the play actively engaging under Nicole A. Watson’s precise direction. Kathryn Hunter-Williams’ Dot is one of her best roles, moving in her sudden confusions and angry frustrations. The production’s highlight is her mistaking Adam for her dead husband, dancing with him to their favorite song.
Rasool Jahan keeps Shelley’s pent-up resentment at a fever pitch, her sarcastic retorts covering a deep love for family. Leighton Brown’s Jackie is a gaggle of conflicted feelings that flare up intensely and then subside into tears. Too overbearing at first, Shanelle Nicole Leonard’s Averie eventually reveals a sensible practicality in sorting out the issues.
Samuel Ray Gates gives Donnie a laid-back personality, demonstrating good chemistry with Adam Poole’s likeable Adam, their current marital problems sweetly resolved by play’s end. Additional moving moments come from Rishan Dhamija’s gentle Fidel, whose interactions with Dot show genuine understanding of her plight.
McKay Coble’s realistic kitchen set magically transforms into a living room during intermission, both acts subtly enhanced by Kathy Perkins’ lighting.
There’s a fair amount of strong language, mostly for comic effect, but that and the overly lengthy script shouldn’t prevent audiences from finding holiday comfort and joy with “Dot.”
What: “Dot” by Colman Domingo
Where: Paul Green Theatre, UNC Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Road, Chapel Hill
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and Dec. 5-9; 2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Dec. 10
Info: 919-962-7529 or playmakersrep.org