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Cynthia Jones-Taylor Returns to the Park Square Stage

We welcome Cynthia Jones-Taylor back to Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage, where she played Dotty, a widowed grandmother in present day Philly in our recent holiday production of DOT.  She now returns to play Lena, a widowed grandmother in 1950s Chicago in A Raisin in the Sun.

What has it been like to play the family matriarch in a black family during two different time periods?

It’s very strange. The contrasts are as extreme as the similarities. Dot was married to a doctor, relatively educated, articulate and a strong component in the community that she lived in. She raised her children to be lawyers and writers, lived a life of relative leisure and believed that they could have anything.

L to R: Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Lena and Ivory Doublette as Ruth in a rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Lena (Mama) was raised by sharecroppers and first-generation free slaves. She wasn’t educated, worked as a domestic and could only in her wildest dreams imagine the life that Dotty lived. But their love for their dearly departed husbands and their children is almost identical, and it transcends eco/social/temporal  boundaries.

As far as drawing on experiences to inform the characters, I was raised in the 1950s and 1960s so Lena and the younger family of Raisin in the Sun are a little closer to my sensibilites. I was raised in Seattle, and we didn’t have the poverty that the Youngers had; but our family values were similar. My mother was a widowed grandmother, and she was a registered nurse working at a hospital so she was educated; but we were living in a time when we couldn’t live across the “red line” that existed (that’s the invisible line that separated neighborhoods and color). It was difficult.

We were the first black family to move in on our block. My mother had taken care of the former owner’s sister when she was in the hospital. They fell in love with her, her personality and her compassion and offered to sell the house to her before they moved back to Sweden. When we moved in, the neighborhood rejected us. They would call their children in when my brothers,  sisters and I would come out to play. They didn’t invite us to any of the gatherings; they treated us as though we didn’t exist at all. Our house was one of the most beautiful on the block, well-maintained with a manicured lawn; and my mother painstakingly orchestrated the six of us to keep it that way. But our arrival triggered white flight.


L to R: Imani Vaughn-Jones as Beneatha, Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Lena and Calvin Zimmerman as Travis in a rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

What most resonates with you about Lena?

Her strength and her capacity for love and forgiveness. The pureness of  her heart and her wisdom. She has what the old South referred to as “Mother Wit,” an ability to simply recognize a situation for what it is.


What has been your prior relationship to A Raisin in the Sun?

Well, I have played Ruth in two professional productions, used a Beneatha monologue in school many, many…many….maaanny years ago, and now I have finally aged into playing Lena. I don’t know of many plays around that can offer an actress like me the opportunity to cover three generations in three completely different characters. It is a rare and wonderful thing!


Do you recall your first-time-ever response to it? 

I vividly recall the first time I saw the movie starring Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee and Diana Sands. I must have been about 11 years old when it finally made it to television in the 1970s. The whole family and invited friends gathered around the living room. It was such an event!!!  A movie about African Americans….starring African Americans…. written by an African American…WOMAN!!!!! ON TELEVISION!!! OMG!!! Now you must bear in mind the scarcity of something like this on television at that time. It was rare that we saw ourselves portrayed anywhere in starring fashion. I cried and laughed and dreamt right along with the Youngers. I must have seen it ten times since then, and it still moves me. It is an American masterpiece, and I feel blessed to have this opportunity.


Tickets and information here.

Theatre Can Save Your Life


Cast of Dot on Stage in livingroom with Christmas Tree

L to R: Michael Hanna (Adam), Ricardo Beaird (Donnie), Cynthia Jones-Taylor (Dotty), Maxwell Collyard (Fidel) and Yvette Garnier (Shelly) in DOT
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

“It’s a cheesy thing to say, but theatre saved my life.”

What actor Ricardo Beaird, who plays Dotty’s son in DOT, claims is likely not the first time that theatre has done that for someone, particularly someone younger. At 16, Ricardo was at the brink of failing and repeating a grade in school. Serendipity came in the form of a teaching artist, visiting to teach his class Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

“I couldn’t understand it at all, but the artist took the time to help me decode it. I came to understand it so much that I could make others understand it, too. I then realized that I could use that same model–decoding to fit my way of learning and being able to explain to someone else–for other subjects, like math. I ended up becoming an A student!”

Donnie and Shelly in the kitchen

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

According to Ricardo, he’d “felt dumb at the time.” Now he himself is gratifyingly also a teaching artist, with the additional perk of lifelong learning through theatre from his own stage work. After earning a B.S. in Theatre and Marketing from Middle Tennessee State University, what initially brought Ricardo to the Twin Cities in 2013 was an Actor-Educator position with CLIMB Theatre in Inver Grove Heights. Once the job ended, he stayed rather than moving to Chicago as originally planned due to our thriving and hospitable theatre community.

DOT is Ricardo’s second time on Park Square’s Proscenium Stage. His first time was in another family comedy/drama, Sons of the Prophet, during our 2015-2016 season. From June 15 to August 5, 2018, he will also be in Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery at Park Square Theatre.


ALSO, YOU CAN LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR EDUCATION PROGRAM (including upcoming productions of A Raisin in the Sun and The Pirates of PenzanceHERE

Dot the Halls!

Stoke the fire, tinsel the tree, “enhance” your eggnog – do whatever you do to make yourself comfortable this holiday season, for you know just how stressful this time of the year can be!

That angst comes in many shapes and forms, from last-minute gift shopping to navigating those inevitably disparate political views. Sometimes, however, the biggest cause of anxiety isn’t something that can be whisked away with the tree and wrapping, but something that fundamentally tests the love and hope of the season.

Currently running at Park Square is a play called Dot, by Colman Domingo, that explores those trials and tribulations.

In the days leading up to Christmas, one West Philadelphia family is rocked by the fact that their mother’s health is rapidly decling due to Alzheimer’s. All around age forty, the children are often too wrapped up in their own mid-life crises to face the severity of the situation, all too willing to snipe at each other’s own shortcomings. Can the family push past these petty insecurities to confront the the reality of losing their mother?

Like I was saying before, the type of stress that this must cause on the family isn’t going to go away with the coming of a new year and by the end of the play, the siblings realize this. That they themselves are the only support system they have to rely on. No matter the differences, the bond of family is too powerful to ignore.

That then, is where those pillars of the season – love, joy and hope – come into play.

For all of it’s drama, Dot is extremely heartwarming and often down-right hilarious. Any one with siblings or numerous relatives can attest to the absurdity that ensues when so many loud personalities share the same living room. Either your join the madness or sneak away to the kitchen and gorge yourself on leftovers. However you cope, you still appreciate those that you call family, however different they may be from yourself.

This is why Dot is such a great play for Christmas-time and why I would love to see it done often in as many theaters as possible. Not only do the holiday themes run deep, but it’s a new play, so you’re able to relate to the work in a way that more closely resembles your own world than that of say, another telling of Victorian-era A Christmas Carol.

Therefore, treat yourself this season and witness the tornado of tinsel and tears that is Dot and get in touch with those traditions that make you warm and fuzzy inside. Or is that the eggnog your sipping?

Tickets and more information HERE 


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


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

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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