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Posts Tagged Cynthia Jones-Taylor

Michael Hanna in a Play with Heart

In Park Square Theatre’s production of DOT, Michael Hanna plays Adam, partner of Richard Beaird’s character, Donnie Shealy. This puts him squarely into the Shealy family dynamics as he accompanies Donnie to matriarch Dot’s home for their Christmas gathering. Not only must Adam and Donnie navigate their own relationship but also face Dot’s decline into Alzheimer’s disease.

Recently, Michael answered questions posed to him about being in DOT and a bit about himself, too:

1. What were your personal ideas as to how you’d approach your character in Dot before rehearsals, and how did they evolve in the rehearsal process?

I think there’s a beautiful fluidity to Adam; he’s very adaptable. He seems to roll with the punches, which is essential in the Shealy family. As rehearsal continued, I started to realize how interwoven he is into the family dynamic. And while he might not have the same amount of history as the siblings and Dot have, because of his love for Donnie, he has a tremendous amount at stake.

2. Often I will seek an interview with cast of plays before the rehearsal process begins. Some do not like to be interviewed until rehearsals have begun, but others do not mind. Your response was that interviewing for a show before rehearsals usually “hasn’t been terribly fruitful.” But in my experience as an interviewer, that actually has not been the case.  How did your opinion from the actor’s side form as a result of what you’ve experienced throughout your career?

I think the reason I say that is because, for me, the way a character jumps off the page when you first read a play is only 25% of the equation of playing the character. I imagine the cast as the colors on a palette: if any of those colors are changed, while the shape of what you’re creating may remain the same, the hue of it will be drastically different. It’s when I get into the room and realize the other actors who I’ll be playing with that I realize how to approach the play. Some of my original instincts get thrown out or recycled into something new. For me, the Adam I’m playing is hopefully one that is based very much off of what Ricardo as Donnie is bringing to the table and informed by every other interaction.

L to R: Michael Hanna (Adam), Ricardo Beaird (Donnie), Maxwell Collyard (Fidel) and Yvette Garnier (Shelly)
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

3. Why do you want to play Adam?

He’s smart, expressive and charmingly flawed. It’s fun to play characters that can be both kind and cruel in a single page.

4. What will be the biggest challenge for you in this role?

This play has a huge heart! Playwright Colman Domingo has tapped into that quality of messy love that I think most families create. Finding ways to access the love of this play, of this character, while also realizing that this family rarely holds back with each other, is one of the bigger challenges. If the underlying love doesn’t come across, even when Adam might want to strangle one of the other characters, I think I’d be missing the mark. It’s a fine line to walk, though a fun one!

5. If you were not already in DOT, why would you choose to see it?

Because its about familial love, which I never get tired of exploring.

Because it talks about Alzheimer’s, a disease that is attached to an unhealthy stigma. We need to discuss this disease and all of the people it affects, both directly and indirectly.

Michael Hanna as Romeo, and Christian Bardin as Juliet 
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

6. As an usher for student matinees, I’ve seen you play Romeo in Park Square’s Romeo & Juliet over and over again, but a real highlight is watching the actors then come out to talk to the students. What would you say to someone who wants to pursue acting as a career?

The beautiful thing about being an actor is that it pulls from your entire life. I don’t think it’s healthy to get too myopic about being a performer. Go out and develop other interests. Study how the world works with as little judgement as possible. Your regular and creative life will thank you.


Tickets and more information for DOT 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

On the Road to Empathy

George (Michael Paul Levin) and Lennie (E. J. Subkoviak)
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Months ago, I had a troubling conversation with a retired literature teacher. She had taught John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men to high school students in Billings, Montana, during the late 1970s. What she remembered most was how difficult it was to draw any sense of empathy, much less sympathy, from her students for the migrant workers in the novel. Her students had considered them “a bunch of losers,” with the main characters, George and Lennie, as “the biggest losers.”

Last week I made it a point to watch Park Square Theatre’s production of Of Mice and Men during a student matinee rather than an evening or weekend show for general audiences. I attended with two school groups–a large non-diverse and a smaller diverse group. With my assigned seat on the right side, I was embedded with the smaller group; and due to the close, intimate space of the Boss Thrust Stage, I had an excellent view of the larger group.

What I witnessed was a fairly rapt student audience for that morning’s performance, with a student on my side even shushing fellow students for whispering during a particularly intense scene. And the whispering students had actually been talking about the play! Theatre-wide, students unconsciously leaned toward the actors, drawn into the key moments: What will happen to Candy’s dog? Curley’s wife? George and Lennie’s dream? Lennie himself? This was theatre at its best, when the connection between audience and actors creates the synergy for a powerful mutual experience.

Jane Froiland in a rehearsal for Of Mice and Men
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

At intermission, many students stayed in their seats to read the cast backgrounds rather than check out the concession counter or take their break in the lobby. I spoke to several to gauge their reactions: No one liked how Curley, the bullying son of the migrant workers’ boss, treated people. Some felt especially bad for the plight of the aging and disabled Candy. Others connected to the concept of dreamers hoping and trying to create better lives. With all that’s been happening in our nation’s social and political climate, it was heartening to witness young audience members relating to the play and its characters.

What I had already discovered through numerous interviews with actors as a blogger is the crucial role that theatre has played in their own personal development as much more empathetic human beings. Actors must perpetually step into someone else’s shoes to understand and become their characters. That’s certainly been true for Vincent Hannam, who plays and dislikes Curley, but had to ponder how Curley became so mean. As Jane Froiland, who plays Curley’s wife, put it in our conversation, “Theatre makes you a better person.” Theatre has the capacity to foster empathy in those on and off stage. Now that’s a powerful medium.

Of Mice and Men is on stage through Saturday, December 16. Tickets and information here.


Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Dotty, and Jasmine Hughes as daughter Averie
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Park Square Theatre’s production of DOT is also a strong example of that power. As you watch family and friends in the play struggle to come to terms with matriarch Dotty’s steady decline from Alzheimer’s disease and reassess their own lives over the holiday season, you may recognize yourself or someone you know in those characters. The hilarity–and seriousness–lies in the knowledge that these people are also us in their messy humanness. And before the ending of DOT, we all get to step into Dotty’s shoes (no more said to prevent a spoiler).

In interviewing cast members of DOT, I’d mindfully asked how they’d personally perceived their characters before and during rehearsals. This question often brings interesting insights as to how one views people then readjusts those views as our understanding of them evolves. This happens for actors in the rehearsal room but is also very true to life in how we all relate to each other. Follow the DOT blog posts to find out how the actors responded!

As we navigate the holiday season into a new year, may we keep traveling the road towards empathy to create a more humane and hopeful world for all. Let’s keep journeying together. I look forward to seeing you at Park Square Theatre!


Tickets and information on DOT here

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas


Cynthia Jones-Taylor (member, actors’ equity association) photo by Petronella J. Ytsma

Park Square Theatre’s holiday production, DOT, features the hopeful but melancholy tune “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” The song aptly fits the play, which portrays a family coming to grips with matriarch Dot Shealy’s steady memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease. DOT is a comedy/drama filled with both hilariously funny and touchingly bittersweet moments.

The song “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” was first introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis. As big sister Esther, she sings it on Christmas Eve to cheer up her five-year-old sister, Tootie, who is distraught by their family’s impending move from their beloved home in St. Louis, Missouri, to New York City.

Although songwriting team Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane shared credit for writing the song, Hugh may have actually penned it alone. He was asked to make the lyrics more uplifting several times, resulting in this final version, which is slightly different than the one sung by Judy Garland:


Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Let your heart be light

From now on, our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Make the Yuletide gay

From now on, our troubles will be miles away

 Here we are as in olden days

Happy golden days of yore

Faithful friends who are dear to us

Gather near to us once more

 Through the years we all will be together

If the Fates allow

Hang a shining star upon the highest bough

And have yourself a merry little Christmas now


According to Ricardo Beaird who plays Dot’s son, Donnie, the moment in the show when he plays the melody on the piano makes him weep. Like Christmastime itself, the Shealy family gathering is a joyful but wistful affair. With Kleenex tucked into pockets, come ready to laugh but also be prepared to cry.

And have yourself a very special time!


Ticket and other information here



 “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” @

 “The history of a popular holiday song” by Chris Willman (January 8, 2007) @

 “Judy Garland, ‘Have a Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” by Jim Beviglia (December 18, 2016) @


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