Highly Recommended ***** The last year, one of constant revelation regarding the Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner story, has brought to the surface more interest in the topic of “transgender” people! Yes, both males and females who feel that they were born in the wrong physical bodies. Up until recent years, most people were unaware that this was happening. But it was! We were just blind to what was going on. People were aware of there being a “gay” population, but not that of the “Trans”. Northlight Theatre Company, under the strong leadership of BJ Jones, decided to bring a new work to their stage, but considering their stage is one in Skokie, a true “bedroom” community at the lower side of the North Shore, opted to bring this story to the city, and the Steppenwolf’s Garage Theatre located on Halsted at North Avenue. As it turns out, the perfect venue, in space, size and location.
“Charm” in its World Premiere, is a two act play written by Philip Dawkins that was inspired by a story that took place right here in the area. In fact, a bit further North of the theater at the Center on Halsted ( in Boy’s Town). Miss Gloria Allen started a class in Etiquette in order to show the homeless and downtrodden teens that to express the proper behavior and a better sense of “self” can assist them through their daily battles of survival in a world that does not relate to their personal torments or lives. Jones worked with Dawkins for over three years in the development of this script, and has assembled a cast that might be called “near perfection” to bring these characters to life.
In watching this play take the stage in the Garage at Steppenwolf, a smaller, intimate space, we can truly believe that we are in the basement of a building that might house a class such as this. In this case, the building is called the LGBTQ Center. The “worker” at the Center, named D ( Chicago favorite. Elizabeth Ledo) has brought in a volunteer to teach a class in manners or “Charm”. Mama Darleena ( a powerful performance by Dezter Zollicoffer), an African-American transgender Senior Citizen. While we are led to believe that she has it all, as the story progresses and he becomes more involved with those he/she is teaching, we learn a great deal more about his life and his secrets.
The class is composed of a Latina transgender (deftly handled by the lovely Monica Orozco), The confused college girl, Jonelle (amazing played by Armand Fields), the “tough guy” Beta (Namir Smallwood), newcomer Logan (Awate Serequeberhan), a couple that have some confusions of their own (Julian Parker and the lovely BrittneyLove Smith) and the confused Lady ( Matthew Sherbach who also takes on the role of Emily Post in a special sequence int he second act, that is apt to bring a tear to your eye). Ledo does her best work in the second act as well. This is a study of “lost” people who become found and an extended family due to the love of one person,. Mam Darleena as they lift themselves out from the situation they were surviving in to become living beings with some happiness and hope.
This play is not about the set, or the lights and even the costumes, although they were all fitting. It is about the story itself and the solid cast of actors who bring these people to view. We see how they learn to deal with life and the struggles they have had to live with. They learn to respect each other and themselves as well as the authority figure that gives his/her all to make it happen. Presenting this play in a space like The Garage is sheer perfection on the part of Northlight. The closeness of the audience to the action allows us to see their faces and know what they are feeling. There are lots of laughs in this show along with many places where we find ourselves a bit choked up and often with need of a tissue or two. I suggest at least three be available in the second act. The running time is two hours and fifteen minutes with a 15 minute intermission.
Wednesdays 8 p.m.
Thursdays 8 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
student tickets , subject to availability are always $15
Northlight subscribers get a 20% discount.
To order tickets call 312-335-1650 or visit www.steppenwolf.org
there is street parking (metered) along Halsted and of course there is a garage at the theater.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Charm”. This is one that you will WANT to see. A theatrical experience that will be enlightening, engaging and entertaining!