E.G. Bailey has experienced family dementia first-hand with his grandmother and then his aunt. Bailey said, “My aunt’s progression was really quick; she was diagnosed in the early stages of dementia in her late 50s and died within three years.”
Born and raised in Liberia, Bailey moved to the United States at age 10 with his family. Bailey is the director of the popular play Dot running at Park Square Theatre in downtown St. Paul. His characters give off a sense of actual events and life experience.
Dotty, the main character, played by Cynthia Jones-Taylor, faces the diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s, and family members are at various stages of accepting her condition.
Dotty’s daughter Shelly is played by Yvette Ganier, who adds to an already extensive acting career. She’s played parts in Broadway plays, The Miracle Worker and King Hedley II (understudy), and has acted on television shows All My Children, Third Watch, The Handler and many more, spreading her talents between stage, film and television.
The MSR sat down with a few cast members before they displayed their talents on the big stage. Gainer, Jones-Taylor, Maxwell Collyard, Ricardo Beaird and Anna Letts Lakin, took the time to speak with MSR about real-life family experiences with dementia and some of the effects it’s had in their performances.
The cast has talked to each other throughout rehearsals to figure out which one of three stages Dotty is experiencing in her progression of Alzheimer’s.
Beaird said, “Coming from the Black community, we don’t name it as Alzheimer’s; it’s just that person is getting old or has lost their mind. Being from the South, there’s always an aunt who’s in her room all the time, gets her food brought to her, and not really part of the family because of brain deterioration.”
Ganier says she hasn’t had any family members with dementia and has never experienced it first hand, but her character Shelly has, as the caregiver who’s around her mother at the time of diagnosis and struggles to juggle her life with her mother’s condition.
Shelly is also given the daunting task of helping her siblings come to grips and understand what is happening, as both stay in the denial stage until they come home for Christmas.
By Christmas, Dotty and Shelly have been coping through life for at least a year with the help of Fidel, a Craigslist-hired caregiver, played by Maxwell Collyard. Fidel is not certified in anything but has the experience of working with seniors. By this stage of Dotty’s Alzheimer’s, she needs fulltime care and Fidel comes in three days a week to give Shelly respite.
Foundations have gotten onboard for this play nationally and locally: American Brain Foundation, HealthPartners Center for Memory & Aging, The Alzheimer’s Association and Volunteers of America Caregiver Program, to name a few.
Members and association caregivers attended the play and participated in a December 14 panel discussion after the play. In the play’s press materials, Dan Gasby, a board member at American Brain Foundation, said, “Thank you to Park Square for choosing to produce this bold, sassy new play that brings us all into the very human story of Alzheimer’s. Park Square’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and to stories that reveal and celebrate the whole human family is more important than ever.”
Dot runs until January 7 at Park Square Theatre. Go to http://parksquaretheatre.org for show times. Community members can receive $10 off tickets to the remaining performances with discount code ALZ. Also, there will be a post-show panel after the performance this Sunday, Jan 7 at 2 pm that will highlight the role of churches and faith communities in memory care and support.
Jonika Stowes welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was updated January 3, 2018.
Jonika Stowes is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. She can be reached at email@example.com.