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Posts Tagged Alzheimer’s disease

Ricardo Beaird Turns 360 Degrees

In DOT, Ricardo Beaird plays Donnie, the middle child and only son in the Shealy family who returns home for Christmas with his partner, Adam. There, he falls back into old family dynamics but also must reckon with new family challenges–namely, matriarch Dotty’s steady decline due to  Alzheimer’s disease.

Upon first reading the script, Ricardo had envisioned Donnie as a flamboyant and vocal person, but his take on the character changed 360 degrees once into rehearsals. Caught between bossy older sister Shelly and outspoken younger sister Averie, and raised by the no-nonsense Dotty, Donnie fittingly became, for Ricardo, “a more subdued and careful person and the more logical man of this family of huge personalities.”

In playing a member of such a family, Ricardo must face two major challenges:

“Playwright Colman Domingo is such a wordsmith. He allows the language to sound real and natural. So we talk over each other a lot, and it’s hard for actors to speak over each other. What part will be most important for the audience to hear?

Ricardo Beaird as Donnie and Yvette Ganier as older sister Shelly in DOT
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

I’m also in these monster scenes that suddenly switch from comedy to drama. It happens so fast, on the turn of a dime. My focus will be to do them as honestly as I can.”

The culmination of all the hard work will be what Ricardo describes as the exhilaration of “giving the audience the experience of going home for Christmas,” with all its hype and pure joy and sadness. Also refreshing to Ricardo is that, although DOT is about an African American family, it isn’t about the hardship of being black. Instead, it tells a universal story about how Alzheimer’s disease affects families. Seeing a play that starts a conversation around this important but often unspoken topic may just be the gift that someone needs.

 

Tickets and information here

 

Anna Letts Lakin On Asking the Hard Questions

In DOT, Anna Letts Lakin plays Jackie, the longtime friend of matriarch Dotty’s family. Jackie has returned to her old neighborhood in West Philly for Christmas “to get my head together and re-evaluate my so-called LIFE.” On her journey to honestly face and redefine herself, she’s unexpectedly confronted by the prospect of losing Dotty, who was like a second mother to her, to Alzheimer’s disease.

“What I admire about Jackie is that she asks the hard questions. She doesn’t skirt around them or let them go. She wants to get to the bottom of things even if it’s uncomfortable,” said Anna. “I wouldn’t do that. I’m a Minnesotan, and I tend to avoid confrontation. But for Jackie, it’s not a matter of nice but of necessity. She’s actually being generous to be able to ask the hard questions, yet be okay if the answers are sharp and uncomfortable.”

Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Dotty with Anna Letts Lakin as close family friend Jackie
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

While Anna may not be prone to ask hard, uncomfortable questions of others, she was willing to ask them of herself. A speech pathologist with a lifelong love of acting, she was finally able to embrace her second career after admitting what held her back was the fear of failure.

“Acting was always a passion but secondary in practice,” Anna acknowledged. “I decided that I would really refocus on it after my son got a bit older. I was now mature enough to fail. In acting, you fail a lot; it’s part of the business. I came to realize that trying to get an agent who’s not interested in representing you or auditioning but not getting cast isn’t failing. That’s all part of the job–the hard work of being an actor. That realization helped me manage my fear and opened up all the doors for me.”

Anna Letts Lakin talks about her role at the insiders’ party held at Holiday Bliss.
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

As an actor, Anna gets to delve into something that, in her words, “absolutely fascinates me: social relationships.”

“That’s why I’m an actor!” she continued. “And in DOT, the subtlety of the human relationships and family dynamics are so rich. As the play progresses, everything makes more and more sense. There’s so much history between these characters. No one’s past comes to a dead end; they all intersect. No aspect of any character is used simply as a device for the storyline. Nothing that happens is unnecessary.”

During rehearsals, Anna also noted that DOT opened up cast and crew to share how Alzheimer’s has touched their own lives. It’s a disease that hits so close to home for so many.

“Alzheimer’s is horrible and unfair but so prevalent and pervasive, yet so unspoken,” Anna noted. “I haven’t heard of a play on Alzheimer’s, especially a comedy. This play is about finding peace, happiness, humor and the best out of a situation. I feel so honored to be in a play that addresses this disease as normal and can make people closer.”

 

 

Tickets and more information here

Cynthia Jones-Taylor is Dotty

In Colman Domingo’s comedy/drama DOT, Cynthia Jones-Taylor plays the title character, Dotty, the widowed matriarch of a middle-class black family slipping into memory loss and dementia. It’s Christmastime as all her grownup children gather at her West Philadelphia home, each carrying their own personal baggage as they try to come to terms with their mother’s Alzheimer’s disease. Here is Cynthia to talk about DOT and her own background:

 What do you look forward to most about being in DOT?

What I most look forward to about being in this production is telling this story and having even a small hand in possibly changing perspectives and educating about this awful disease and the trauma that it creates for its victims and their families.

What will be your biggest challenge in playing Dotty?

I think the biggest challenge is trying to create the stages of this disease in such a short amount of time. We only get a couple of hours onstage to show the stages of decline in this woman’s state, so trying to find a believable arc for her illness is the biggest challenge.

Maxwell Collyard as Fidel; Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Dotty
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Did you do any special preparation for this role?

I did. I visited various convalescent centers, watched tons of videos and have hours and hours of internet research under my belt. Also, in college I’d worked at a convalescent care center where I had the opportunity to work with the elderly. Many of the residents were afflicted with this disease.

Watching DOT will be especially poignant for me because our beloved neighbor, Dorothy (aka Dot), has been in steady decline with Alzheimer’s. How does DOT personally resonate with you?

As I’d mentioned in the previous question, I had worked at a convalescent center in college. I fell in love with a few of the other people there; one in particular, Irene, had dementia, but she would be lucid every now and then and had a wicked sense of humor. We would converse every now and then, and she would tell me stories and we would laugh. She didn’t have anyone to visit her, so I spent a lot of time in and out of her room and sitting by her bedside. I remember Irene when I step into DOT.

L to R: Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Dotty; Yvette Ganier as Shelly; Anna Letts Lakin as Jackie

How did you end up being an actor? What was your personal journey?

I have always loved the arts throughout high school and onward. But I am a veteran; I was in the United States Army and close to my departure from the service at Fort Lewis, Washington, when I went to a production that was traveling around military posts. I saw a play called Five on the Black Hand Side, and I was just fascinated and blown away by the actors in the production–one actor in particular, the lead. After the production I went backstage and eventually, making a long story extremely short, I ended up joining his company, going to college and marrying him. After almost 40 years later, we still haunt the boards.

 

Tickets and information here

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