The World Premiere
Directed by BJ Jones
Produced by Northlight Theatre
At the Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, Chicago
Funny yet heartbreaking World Premiere about transgender folks is an important play for everyone to see
Kudos to playwright Philip Dawkins and the folks at Northlight Theatre for bringing Charm to Steppenwolf Garage Theatre on Halsted Street in Chicago, just south of the Center on Halsted. Charm is a powerful, funny, and moving work based on an actual person, Miss Gloria Allen, a senior African-American transgender woman who worked with transgender youth in Chicago.
Under the brilliant writing and vivid character development by the skilled craftsmanship of Chicago playwright Philip Dawkins, Charm introduces audiences to a little known subculture, transgender youths. In an LGBTQ organization in Chicago, we meet Mama Darleena (fabulous performance by Dexter Zollicoffer) who volunteers to give an etiquette class about charm to a mixed group of LGBTQ youths. The Center’s coordinator, D (Elizabeth Ledo) is the stressed out, but a dedicated, administrator who hopes Mama Darleena can offer helpful advice to the wild homeless LGBTQ youths.
Mama shares her rules of proper behavior that actually are more than how to charm, they are exercises in self-esteem and mutual respect. Her initially hostile group ranges in sexuality, race, and gender identity from a Latina transwoman, to a cisgendered straight black couple, to a mysterious gang banger, to a gay suburban teen. This group fights and argues with Mama as they struggle with their daily battles with homelessness, poverty, prejudice, and personal identity. Loneliness and personal demons and anti-social reactions dominate their life.
But the sheer strong willed tenacity of Mama eventually wins the youth’s respect since they realize that Mama cares about each of them. Her message of charm, based on Emily Post’s Rules of Etiquette, is really a message of peace, self-acceptance, and dignity. Mama get these troubled youths to find a way to respect each other as they find ways to define themselves. These rule of charm become rules for living.
As we hear Mama’s and each of the seven LGBTQ youths stories, we learn to understand and empathize with them. We see them as unique personalities with real struggles and as possessing the strength of the human spirit. As this story unfolds, it becomes an uplifting story as each character, including Mama, forms a bond that strengthens each.
BJ Jones has tightly directed these players to win our hearts, especially Mama. The youths are Armand Fields (Jonelle), Monica Orozco (Ariela), Julian Parker (Donnie), BrittneyLove smith (Victoria), Namir Smallwood (Beta), Matthew Sherbach (Lady/Emily Post) and Awate Serequeberhan (Logan). But Charm belongs to Dexter Zollicoffer as his tour de force performance was stunning!
Charm is wonderful theatre fulled with unique characters, funny moments, and an important story about a misunderstood subgroup. Charm is well crafted and important. All teens need to see this show because its message of self respect, acceptance and dignity are universal. Philip Dawkins is a Chicago treasure.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: October 21, 2015
For more info checkout the Charm page at theatreinchicago.com
At Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, 1624 N Halsted, Chicago, IL, call 312-335-1650, www.steppenwolf.org, tickets $20 -$40, Wednesday thru Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through November 8, 2015.