What's it about?
Set during Christmas time, Dot is about the Shealys, a family from West Philly coming to terms with Dotty, the mother, losing her memory to Alzheimer’s.
What'd I experience?
It’s a little strange that this is the second play about a mother suffering from Alzheimer’s that I’ve seen in the span of a few months. Maybe it’s not so strange given that I deliberately never read about the plays I see before I see them. Maybe Alzheimer’s is something I need to start thinking about. Maybe it’s just coincidence. I don’t know yet.
What I do know is that I have not been this engrossed in a while.
When the lights dimmed, sitting in the near darkness, I could feel that something wonderful was about to begin.
The curtain lifts and out comes Dotty, her eldest daughter Shelly, and their neighbor and friend, Jackie. Shelly pours some watermelon vodka for herself as she prepares Dotty’s breakfast. It is 10am and Jackie is here to borrow linens. When Dotty asks any question or makes a comment, Shelly shouts a response at her, with obvious impatience in her voice and subtle sadness on her face. Each time this happens, Dotty’s face grows somber and she goes quiet, like a child who has just been scolded. But within a few moments, she’s back to making comments and asking questions. Watching them, I find myself most like Jackie, like the confused and embarrassed friend who would rather just come back at a better time.
The shouting makes me uncomfortable, but I can’t look away. Jackie and I want to know more about the hints of sadness on Dotty’s face and why Shelly needs a drink at 10 in the morning.
When Dotty leaves to go to the bathroom, Shelly answers my questions with one word: Alzheimer’s.
I can’t really describe how this play made me feel without writing out the whole plot. I just found that its portrayal of the complexities of being alive and not dead, of being attached to other people and not alone so moving, so beautifully sad.
It’s Christmas Eve and everyone is at the Shealy house: Dotty, Shelly, Avery (Shelly’s younger sister) Donnie (Shelly’s younger brother), Adam (Donnie’s husband), Jackie, and Fidel (a young man from Kazakhstan, hired to look after Dotty). Dotty has presents for her children. Shelly, Avery, and Donnie open their boxes: latex gloves, swimming goggles, big headphones, and pebbles. Fidel explains to the dismayed gift recipients that these are for a game that Dotty would like them to play for her, a game to simulate Dotty’s world with Alzheimer’s, to make them take a walk in her shoes.
After much resistance, Donnie agrees to play. The pebbles go in Donnie’s shoes (to make walking difficult), the gloves, on his hands (to hinder his sense of touch), the headphones and goggles, on his ears and eyes (to obstruct his senses of hearing and sight). Donnie is then given instructions to do small tasks around the room such “go to the closet and find a blue sweater” and “pour Shelly a glass of wine.”
With his senses impaired and with all of the shouting from family members giving him instructions, Donnie has made a mess of the room. He is incredibly frustrated and upset, unable to complete all of the tasks given to him.
When Donnie quits the game Dotty says, “Now you know what it’s like for me.”
That game scene was powerful and trying to explain it in writing is probably an injustice. I really felt the very human frustration, sadness, and desperation that Dotty probably felt. Few other portrayals of illness, particularly Alzheimer's, that I have seen, have jolted me into remembering the importance of being compassionate the way Dot did.