At first, the half-empty bottle of Smirnoff seems like a visual non sequitur, alone on the counter of a homey little kitchen. But its presence there at ten a.m. on a workday is the first sign of the life-and-death struggle underway in a sunny West Philadelphia home, as portrayed in Colman Domingo's 2016 domestic drama, Dot.
The particulars fill in shortly. Rasool Jahan launches into her intrepid performance as Shelly, a young lawyer, single mother, and certified control freak caught in a situation she cannot control. Her mother Dotty's Alzheimer's disease is progressing, implacably stealing her memories, language, and personality. As the self-designated "responsible" daughter, Shelly is convinced she's the only one who can take care of her. With two days left until Christmas and Dotty (a sterling Kathryn Hunter-Williams) even dottier than usual, dropping N-bombs while trying to cadge some weed from a former neighbor, the watermelon vodka is a last-minute addition to Shelly's failing coping mechanisms. Clearly, something has to give.
Though it hardly sounds comic, director Nicole Watson deftly mines a candid brand of gallows humor, which helps Shelly stay afloat amid the chaos. That dark wit and candor animates the strained relationship between Donnie (an urbane Samuel Ray Gates) and his husband, Adam (Adam Poole), who are visiting from New York, before wild child Averie (a hyper Shanelle Nicole Leonard) punctuates the proceedings.
All parties are assembling their resources against reversals yet to come. Memories manifest in collected photographs, tape recordings, and mistaken identities, as Dotty briefly believes Adam is her husband. As estranged siblings and lovers reconcile and family bonds reform and solidify, this bittersweet holiday tale reminds us that some losses are reversible, and that enough of the past can be protected to fund an uncertain future.