Based on an actual transgender woman, Miss Gloria Allen who volunteered her time at a Chicago LGBTQ community center on Halsted teaching etiquette to a mostly homeless LGBT youth group, Charm, the new play by Philip Dawkins (About Face Theatre’s The Homosexuals) at the MCC Lucille Lortel Theatre down on Christopher Street feels perfectly placed and timed. This is a play that brings more transgender people to the front and center in a fairly honest depiction than I have ever seen in any play before. And that’s huge. Just for that one fact this play should be celebrated. Charm let’s them shine and also act out in all their glory, and gives us a window into their troubled but brave existence. The play, a bit chaotic in its direction by the trans-identified director and choreographer, Will Davis (ATC’s queer reimagining of Inge’s Picnic), balances the tight rope walk between education and entertainment by informing casually within solid and authentic conversations and complex relationship building. The play gives us plenty to chew on, as all sorts are in the room, and even though most of the kid’s stories are only lightly teased out and too many questions are left unanswered, the appeal of all lifts us up and shakes us awake from our privileged lives.
Playing the teacher with Charm, ‘Mama’ Darleena Andrews, Sandra Caldwell (the Dora Award nominated Sterling Productions’ Sophisticated Ladies) gives us a highly sassy and powerful creation. She is a 67-year-old, black, transgender woman who takes it upon herself to teach an etiquette class at Chicago’s LGBTQ Center. Her history though is fuzzy, with details blurred into something of a false feel-good story for her students. Her fairy tale is created all for the lifting up of this class of characters that basically are in the room because there might be some free food. She southern-charms us with her over-the-top delivery, and somehow she manages against all odds to connect with these troubled kids, and with us. It’s a compelling portrait of a fighter and a survivor, that borders on the edge of too much. I wish there was a bit less affectations, and far more realness in her at moments throughout, but the scenes when we finally get a glimpse of the real woman beneath the wig, it feels satisfying, engaging, and pure.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com