“I was telling my class the other day, rarely has African American theatre had the luxury of doing theatre merely for art’s sake,” said Ron Himes, founder and producing director of the St. Louis Black Repertory Company.
This week they opened their 41st season with Colman Domingo’s “Dot” at Washington University’s Edison Theatre. The play is humorous, but it is framed around the serious issue. The play’s namesake and family matriarch is suffering with the early stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Dot is the mother of three, but the eldest daughter bears the heavy load of handling her mother’s day-to-day care.
“It’s like two days before Christmas and she’s planning to have this big ‘come to Jesus’ meeting with her siblings – you know, to let them know she needs some help,” Himes said.
The eldest sibling has her work cut out for her in getting the family to come together for Dot’s sake.
Her son surprises the family with his white husband. The youngest daughter has fallen hard from her 15 minutes of fame as a reality starlet and is forced to return to work as a store cashier – while living in her older sister’s basement.
“It’s a wonderful play. There is definitely a lot going on,” Himes said. “But their mother’s health eventually brings them closer as a family.”
“Dot” stars Jacqueline Thompson, Chauncy Thomas, Thomasina Clarke, Heather Beal, Courtney Elaine Brown, Paul Edwards and Ryan Lawson-Maeske and plays through September 24th at The Edison.
Their mother’s health crisis is a topic that hits home for many African American families.
“Early on when I started reading about the play, I started looking at the statistics,” said Himes, who also directs the play. “I noticed it’s one of those things now where nobody understands why but African American’s are getting Alzheimer’s at twice the rate of white people.
“Ten percent of white people over the age of 70 are getting it versus 21 percent of blacks over 70. It’s not necessarily a taboo, but it’s not something we are really talking about.”
They have partnered with the Alzheimer’s Research Project out of the Washington University Medical School and the Alzheimer’s Association for this production.
It’s the second time The Black Rep has partnered with Alzheimer’s organizations as a result of a play that were producing. A few years ago, they did a play called “For Pete’s Sake.”
“It’s some information that we need to get out – and I’m sure that these agencies have been trying to get out – but this play can serve as a vehicle in that way,” Himes said. “It’s been a great thing to be able to partner with the agencies who that is their direct mission. We’ve been able to work together to get the information out to the African American community.”
The organizations will participate in post-show discussions during the run of the play and assist the company with the process of capturing the effects of dementia with authenticity and grace as they were mounting the show.
Aligning the arts in the name of public health is nothing new to the Black Rep. According to Himes, it falls in line with the company’s mission of heightening the social and cultural education of the community.
“We’ve done pieces that dealt with teen pregnancy. We’ve done pieces that have dealt with lead poisoning. We’ve done pieces that have dealt with sickle cell and HIV/AIDS,” Himes said. “For me it is a vehicle that allows us to service the community as a resource in getting information out. I see our work being a vehicle for this kind of education and dissemination of information.
The theatre that we have done has always been political and relevant to contemporary issues and the community – and that includes our health.”
The Black Rep’s presentation of “Dot” continues through September 24 at The Edison Theatre at Washington University. For more information, visit www.blackrep.org or call (314) 534-3810.