In the middle of playwright Philip Dawkin’s Charm, one of his characters has a breakdown. While her peers are learning to dance for a tea party at Chicago’s esteemed Drake hotel, Lady (Marky Irene Diven) sits neglected and alone. Her hormone treatment schedule has becoming irregular, causing an identity crisis within herself. “Nobody wants me,” she laments. “I wish everyone would stop looking at me and just touch me. I wanna be touched and be f**ed and be regular. I just. I WANT! Okay?”
It is one of many poignant moments in this touching and often funny drama-comedy, but it may be the most heartbreaking of all. In one brief monologue, Dawkins gives his audience a crystal clear portrait of the misunderstanding and frustration that gender queer people face on a regular basis.
With gentle consolation, Jonelle (Jojo Brown) assures her that “God makes no mistakes, and They made you just the way you are. You just need time to make the changes you want to make.”
Jonelle and Lady are two of the seven individuals who frequent the The Center, a safe haven for LGBTQ. They gather for charm lessons, led by Mama Darleena Andrews (Sandra Caldwell).
There is much to admire in Dawkin’s work, the majority of which rests on his human portrait of marginalized souls. He is also able to brave the often overlooked or ignored fact of dissension within the queer community. Darleena, a self-assured trans woman at odds with D (Kelli Simpson), the rule driven autocratic director of the center. D feels threatened by Darleena’s approach to bringing class to her class. Gender terms and ideologies are a subject of debate between the two.
The first half of Dawkin’s work is solid. He is quickly able to create character depth and nurture empathy through his lively characters. In the second half of his two hour play, however, some of the elements fail to cohere. By delving into the supernatural sphere, he incorporates a saccharine finish to an otherwise solid production.
Dawkin based his work on Miss Gloria Allen, a Trans icon in the Chicago area who led an actual charm class at the Center on Halsted. Director Will Davis deserves kudos for casting a remarkably talented Trans cast. While it may not be without some minor problems, Charm bring voice, much needed admiration, and deep respect to those who—like the rest of us—simply want to be seen and appreciated.
MCC’s Charm plays Off Broadway through Oct. 15th at the Lucille Lortel Theater (121 Christopher Street). For tickets and information, visit: http://www.mcctheater.org/shows/17-18_season/charm/index.html