By Nigel Alston
Winston-Salem Journal May 26, 2017
“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”
The power of theater, a well-written story and reality made an impression on audience members last weekend. The North Carolina Black Repertory Company presented “Maid’s Door,” written by Cheryl Davis and directed by Jackie Alexander.
“Maid’s Door” is about a family being pushed to the breaking point as they struggle to save their beloved matriarch from being robbed of a glorious present by ghosts from her past. Alzheimer’s is robbing her and her family as they navigate through the landmines of acceptance and change.
I met the playwright, Cheryl Davis, and talked to her about her award-winning play. The title of the play came from an assignment she was given to write about a place where she had lived or was living. She noticed a door in her kitchen and learned from her grandmother that it was a “maid’s door.”
The door, used by maids to come in and out in an upper West Side apartment in New York, became the first scene of the play as the matriarch’s memory fades.
It was a powerful performance by a great cast that really highlighted the issue of Alzheimer’s and its impact on individuals and their families.
I could sense the emotion in Davis’ voice and see it in her face as she talked about the play and how it still touches her heart. Her hope is for people to see the play, be moved by it, and laugh and feel for the family while learning something about this awful disease, Alzheimer’s.
All of the above happened during the run of the play.
It touched one person (Karen) to the core, as she saw herself, her family and how she has interacted with her mother. She expected to come out to an afternoon of entertainment and see a “portrayal of someone with Alzheimer’s and the difficulties they go through.”
What she didn’t expect was to see herself in the portrayal of the daughter and the way she tried to control the inevitable.
After the performance, Karen sought out the actor, Melissa Joyner (she played the daughter of the matriarch) to thank her for such a realistic depiction of someone dealing with a family member affected by this disease.
“It was real,” she said, and demonstrated how hard it is to cope. “Whenever the love can come through and you try not to be in control, it can make everything better; it can help with the family as well as the person with Alzheimer’s.”
Like Davis, her comments were from the heart and personal.
Those with the disease deserve love and respect; a point Karen made as she described her sons telling her that she talks to her mother at times like she talks to them.
So, how did a play about an important issue resonate with her?
“I was able to see in a play some of the ways I’d like to see myself act, and not have it be an act,” she told me. “It was nice to see the difficult parts and realize if you step back you can make a difference in someone’s life.”
At the same time, it’s important to relinquish control and show love.
Sometimes showing love requires help from organizations like Senior Services and valuable research from places like The Stitch Center on Aging. Both organizations were available after each performance along with faith leaders and other researchers to share valuable information and answer questions.
Did you know that you don’t know for sure if a person has Alzheimer’s until they die? I didn’t, although there are signs that point to the disease. African-Americans are impacted more than other groups and are less likely to have a diagnosis of the condition, resulting in less time for treatment and planning.
Alzheimer’s is a difficult topic to talk about. It is a difficult issue to face for the person experiencing it, families, caregivers and those close to them.
That’s why it’s important to increase awareness, education and research.
Theater entertains and starts conversations.