'It's just something so real': Lisa B. Thompson makes her directorial debut with 'Dot'
Professor, author, and playwright Lisa B. Thompson (who has recently joined the KUT family as one of the hosts of the podcast Black Austin Matters) has spent years teaching theater and writing award-winning plays, so it’s a little surprising that she’s only now making her directorial debut.
“I was being interviewed [for] Lisa Scheps’ show a few years ago,” Thompson says. “and she, in one of her questions, said ‘have you ever directed?’ And I said, ‘no.’ And she said, “Well, if you were going to direct, what would it be?’ And I said, ‘Dot, by Colman Domingo.’”
Thompson says that declaration wasn’t planned ahead of time – she just knew the answer in the moment. And she was right; the production of Dot onstage now at Ground Floor Theater marks her directorial debut.
Why did it take so long for somebody so entrenched in the theater world to direct a play? That’s a good question, Thompson says. “Two things that, in the years since that [conversation with Scheps], it’s made me think about: One is that I’ve been a theater artist for almost 25 years and no one’s ever asked me [to direct]. And that, to me, underscores… how racism operates. Kudos to her, but also, to the rest of the folks: think about that. But also, I’m really grateful for her asking that question and for me listening to my heart and blurting out this play because it’s really dear to me.”
Dot is close to her heart because Domingo drew in part from Thompson’s own family for inspiration. “It’s partially inspired by my own family’s experience and the experiences of some other friends of the writer, Colman Domingo, who is luckily actually a friend of mine," Thompson says.
The play deals with the experience of adult children coping with a parent’s dementia but “it’s not just about that,” Thompson says. “It’s also about what it means to be… in midlife and trying to figure out what really matters. So it’s a really important and smart piece. It’s his third play and I think it’s in many ways his masterpiece.”
Jeremy Rashad Brown, who plays the role of Donnie in Dot, says he found the character highly relatable. “Just exploring… what’s important when you come to midlife, right?” he says. “Donnie is at that point. He’s in a marriage that he’s not as confident in at this point, even though love is still there. It’s about really trying to figure out how to balance… and how to properly take care of his mother, who is slipping deeper into dementia, while at the same time being there for his siblings and trying to attain his own personal and professional goals. And I mean, that’s very anxiety-ridden. And I struggle with that myself, so I brought a lot of my own anxiety to this role.”
Brown has nothing but praise for Thompson’s newly-formed directing skills. “A lot of directors, they don’t take the time to sit with you as you sit with the text and really suss out what is truly being said in the subtext,” he says. “And so that I am really grateful for that with Dr.” -- and here he really emphasizes the word “doctor,” prompting a laugh from Thompson – “Lisa B. Thompson in her directorial debut with Dot, yes.”
“It’s really a piece that’s about the Black family and showing the Black family in ways that we have not seen on stage,” Thompson says. “The diversity of a black family around sexuality, around class and expressions of blackness and showing an interracial relationship. And I love the fact that the love story is a queer one in this.”
“It’s just something so real,” Brown says. “And that’s what I appreciate about this play and appreciate about this character, this story overall. It’s just so real. And there was barely any rehearsal where I wasn’t crying. So I continue to bring that, even moreso, into the performances because this is a very real life story.”
After a beat, Thompson jumps in to say “I should add, it is a comedy too, though! Don’t freak out. It’s very much Domingo’s way to bring you this sharply sobering moment and then hit you in the gut with a joke.”
“The triple axel!” Brown adds.
“Exactly,” Thompson says. “And I should say that Jeremy Rashad Brown and the rest of the cast, they are absolutely phenomenal. They are just absolutely embodying these characters in ways that I only could have dreamt of.”