Monday, September 11, 2017


MCC Theater
Lucille Lortel Theatre
September 9, 2017
Photo courtesy of MCC Theater
Philip Dawkins’ Charm tells a heartwarming and universal story about building community through genuine care, mutual consideration, and yes, proper manners.  The MCC Theater production at the Lucille Lortel Theatre is of high quality.  The cast is superb, building true characters with clear objectives that drive the story forward and engage the audience.  Director Will Davis’ passion for these characters rings brilliantly.  He gives space for each actor to honestly reveal the inner truth of their character.  He unites them in their need for one another in Mr. Dawkins’ life affirming conclusion.

Mama Darleena Andrews (played by Sandra Caldwell), a 67 year old black transgender woman, volunteers to teach a class on charm at the LGBTQ Center in Chicago.  D, the program director (played by Kelli Simpkins), welcomes her with a warning that the youth at the center are homeless and street-wise, and might be resistant to Emily Post’s rules of etiquette.  Darleena faces the challenge with optimistic determination as her students openly talk about their fears and obstacles, sometimes with vicious aggression.  It is when she is honest about herself and opens to receive their love and respect in return that a true sense of community is verified. 

Photo courtesy of MCC Theater
Mr. Dawkins based his main character, Mama Darleena Andrews, on Miss Gloria Allen, who volunteered for years to teach transgender and gender nonconforming youths how to survive and believe in themselves.  She is considered an icon by many in her community.  Sandra Caldwell portrays this character with the grace, poise, and self-respect this role requires.  She reveals the character’s many layers so the audience understands her motivations and deeper, personal needs.  She connects with each cast member, creating relationships that blossom in the story’s conclusion.   Creating the bureaucratic conflict for Mama Darleena to achieve her goals, Kelli Simpkins develops the character of D with truthful intensions and a deeply rooted emotional connection to her work.

The cast & creative team of Charm
Photo courtesy of MCC Theater
The cast takes every opportunity with Mr. Dawkins' skillfully crafted dialogue to develop moments that draw the audience into the deep secrets of their personal lives and their emotional struggle with identity and acceptance. Each story is riveting and raw.  Haile Sahar portrays Ariela as an open book who erupts with deep-seeded anger when her affection for Mama Darleena is not reciprocated.  Marquise Vilson unpeels Beta’s forceful exterior when Mama Darleena looks beyond his protective demeanor.  Michael Lorz (Logan) and Jojo Brown (Jonelle) have a magical chemistry and generate a strong bond that reaches beyond their diverse backgrounds.  Lauren R. Walker is fierce as Victoria.  When her softer side is exposed, she is genuine and empathetic.  Michael David Baldwin plays her husband, Donnie.  Together their characters courageously grow and change with sincere fortitude.  Marky Irene Diven shines as Lady.  The character is drowning in fear and self-doubt due to physical and emotional victimization and gender confusion.  The arc of this character’s catharsis during the course of the play is stunningly interpreted.    

Director Will Davis, Miss Gloria Allen,
& Playwright Philip Dawkins
Photo courtesy of MCC Theater
The MCC Theater production of Charm is running at the Lucille Lortel Theatre through October 8.  Philip Dawkins weaves these true to life characters, full of flaws, gusto, and grit, into a well-developed, heartwarming play that you MUST see. 

Domenick Danza

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