‘Dot’ handles topic of Alzheimer’s with humor and realness

Jasmine Hughes (left) play’s Dotty’s youngest daughter Averie. (Courtesy of Park Square Theatre)

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.

Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Dotty (Courtesy of Park Square Theatre)

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 jstowes@spokesman-recorder.com.

 

 

This story was updated January 3, 2018.

About Jonika Stowes

Jonika Stowes is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. She can be reached at jstowes@spokesman-recorder.com.

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2 Comments on “‘Dot’ handles topic of Alzheimer’s with humor and realness”

  1. I find it quite interesting that the description of Alzheimer’s disease was labeled something different. Not a surprise, one had to learn what caused these sudden changes in our loved ones, & find out “IT” has a name.
    I guess I learned 1st through an old friend of my grandmother. Her cousin was dealing with her mother, she would dress, & re-read herself, piling on shirts, pants, gloves etcetera. I remember having the conversation with the cousin/caregiver.
    She was facing the same fate, she knew she would experience dementia, she almost embraced it.
    My grandmother had her moments with dementia, her sudden stroke & brain embolism added to her issues, along with
    losing her left breast to cancer @86 years old.
    That, has always been the issue in the Black Community, early detection. Of anything
    medical. I’m guessing pride before common sense… Things work out better when the 1st
    signs are cared about, & seen early by your GP.
    Lastly, I’m curious if timing has a factor in this debilitating disease? My neighbor of over 40+ years, since I was a child, she & her husband had lost their beloved older son.
    He died in September of 2008.
    After his passing, my neighbor seemed to enter that world of dementia…she was always well read, considerate, kind, loving,
    thoughtful, …the last conversation I had with her, she was giving me condolences after the loss of my brother. She said her issue was “Faces”…she knew my brother existed,
    but couldn’t remember his face.
    She died 4 yrs. ago in May. Did her sudden loss of her oldest son, trigger her dementia?
    Or cause it to rapidly progress?
    Idk, but I’m happy to see that the awareness is alive & well, & keeps the conversation,
    & hopefully a cure for the future.

    Thank you for your time.

  2. Hi Ms. Cherie Johnson, thank you for your comment.

    As you’ve pointed out there’s quite a difference in “normal” aging and dementia.

    In answering your question, timing and early detection has a lot to do with dementia. The brain is a magnificent organ that scientist continually study and in actuality at most, humans only use 10% of (It’s actually closer to 7%). Imagine what the other 90% is doing.

    But let’s step back. Taking care of ones health can be a key factor in holding dementia at bay. Is a person exercising daily, what foods are being eaten, is your memory being exercised through reading and various brain exercises….Is a person’s health being taken care of to the best of ones ability to stave off such diseases. Are blood pressure pills being taken to deter blood clots or strokes which cut off circulation to the brain. Are we preventing diabetes or if we have it, controlling it so that our brain is not affected….All of the causes of dementia are not yet known. In March Meeting of The Minds is being held here in Minneapolis and there will be a session on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Will Smith, Alec Baldwin and many other’s brought this to public light in the 2015 film Concussion. Is CTE another form of dementia? We’ll find out.

    We often think of the end result but there are preventative measures before the end result. Yes, a cure would be a wonderful answer too. And we in the black community have to remember to keep advocating for ourselves and our loved ones, ask for help when we need it and be there for those that need us.

    Jonika Stowes
    Writer (not scientist)

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