Members say: Relevant, Thought-provoking, Entertaining, Ambitious, Funny

About the show

MCC Theater presents a new play about a black, sexagenarian transwoman named Mama Darleena Andrews teaching an etiquette class at a Chicago LGBTQ community center.

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Mama quickly finds that the idealistic teachings of Emily Post clash with the real-life challenges of identity, poverty, and prejudice faced by her students. Inspired by the true story of Miss Gloria Allen and her work at Chicago’s Center on Halsted, Philip Dawkins' 'Charm' asks, how do we lift each other up when the world wants to tear us down?

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See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews


"It's that rare play that is simultaneously funny, smart, and emotionally gripping...As Mama, Caldwell gives one of the most heartfelt performances of the year. Her maternal warmth radiates off the stage...Under the thoughtful direction of Will Davis, plenty of excellent performances emerge over the course of two hours...'Charm' exercises our brains, or hearts, and our funny bones, resulting in a very satisfying night at the theater." Full Review


"A bona-fide charmer...Davis directs a terrific ensemble cast in this bittersweet fantasy of perfect comity within the LGBTQ community...The characters aren’t as stereotyped as they sound, and the uniformly excellent cast humanizes every last one of them...For all its soft satire and good-natured laughs, 'Charm' has some sharp points to make...Dawkins treats his characters with respect...But he doesn’t know what to do with them in the shapeless second act, which lands with a dull thud." Full Review

The New York Times

"However predictable their arcs, these characters are far more fascinating than the usual lifeboat crew...Whenever 'Charm' focuses on their lives outside of class it maintains at least a documentary interest. But within the class, the noisy action—all shade and byplay—is too often superficial. The potential for real conflict is largely left unexplored...Lacking scenes that truly test her philosophy, Mama is reduced to a collection of uplifting attitudes and sassy ripostes." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"At its best, 'Charm' is candid about the pain these young people endure and the overwhelming odds against which they struggle. Then again, these truths are often glossed over by sitcom-style plotting...Still, if the director, Will Davis, can't smooth over the script's rough edges he gets excellent work from a cast of new faces...Even if 'Charm' handles its hot-button topic in less-than-incisive fashion, it is certainly full to the brim with its title quality." Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

“Dawkins's lively, touching, if imperfect comedy…rocks a colorful variation of a familiar format…MCC's perfect casting, which respects the identities of its actors, is likely to offer surprises…'Charm' is classic feel-good territory…Mama…turns the spotlight on the word 'fabulous,' but you need only watch Caldwell's exceptional, award-level performance to understand its meaning…Each actor makes us feel that, in their futures, their characters will add something to the charm bracelet of life.” Full Review

New York Daily News

“Messy but moving…Director Davis has assembled a capable cast and is mostly successful guiding the ensemble through the play’s humor, poignance, dance breaks and fantastical scenes. The script and the acting do sometimes tilt toward stereotype and obvious button-pushing. On the other hand, moments like one when Ariela, a student and sex worker, reveals the depth of her desperation, make you sit up and take notice." Full Review


"The students, portrayed with verve by a transgender cast, all get their big, if predictable, moments to shine. Forgive me if they reminded me too frequently of Mr. Kotter’s Sweathogs, crude and amiably redeemable. 'Charm' is rough-hewn but gives voice to a group we need to hear more from." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"A play that brings more transgender people to the front and center in a fairly honest depiction than I have ever seen.. And that’s huge...Will Davis balances the tightrope walk between education and entertainment by informing casually within authentic conversations...The real trouble I had with 'Charm' is that there are so many characters in this piece that deserve attention and exploration...In the end, 'Charm' and the playwright leave us with more questions than insights." Full Review

Theatre Reviews Limited

"Under Will Davis’s direction, Sandra Caldwell and the rest of the talented cast deliver strong performances and reflect the sincerity of the script and its redemptive message; however, what is missing in this production is a sense of vulnerability or a recognition of the importance of atonement...What happens between Mama and Beta should happen throughout the play to achieve a consistent level of honest discourse." Full Review


"Philip Dawkins' 'Charm' immediately creates very distinct personalities among its nine characters as soon as we meet them. It is one of the few plays that makes you care about the welfare and the futures of the people it introduces. As such it is one of the most satisfying and rewarding plays in town. It also demonstrates the message that if you change your behavior you can alter you self-image and outlook on life." Full Review

Gotham Playgoer

"The overlong first act has too many noisy scenes of the students acting out that shed more heat than light. We don’t get a crisis until the second act. What follows is fairly predictable and not very enlightening. Caldwell quietly creates a vivid character. The others act with more gusto than polish...Director Will Davis could tighten things up a bit. It’s intermittently entertaining, but not interesting enough to justify its length. Cutting it to a tight 90 minutes might have improved it." Full Review

Front Row Center

"I was the straight person in the audience enjoying all of this while wondering who was a male, who was female, as well as who identified how, as what gender in the past present and future. At the end of the show, I didn’t really have any more answers about all that. But I did feel that maybe I understood more of the human experience than I did when I first sat down...And that understanding told me I had just seen some good theater. Go see this one, Kids. I highly recommend it." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Dawkins and director Will Davis juggle a colorful array of characters with skill, and the actors, several of whom are transgender, form a wonderfully harmonious ensemble, especially when creating cacophony...Although the play’s ending is somewhat pat, the last scene of its first act—a tense, revelatory encounter between Mama and Beta—packs a real wallop. No one coasts on charm here; the talent is real." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"Sentimental—but inspirational too...Dawkins mixes in jealousies and rivalries...Then he quickly whirls through resolutions to these problems as though they were plot points on a TV procedural. Yet, it's still great to see a story about transgender people that isn't unrelentingly depressing or sad but is instead upbeat and celebratory...'Charm' isn't a great play but, particularly in these tolerance-testing times, it's one worth seeing and cheering on." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"The word has a variety of meanings, but has never been presented with such unique verve as in the current production of 'Charm'...It addresses the LGBTQ community with a spin that gets immediate audience attention...A truly magnificent Sandra Caldwell...This is an important story to tell that will go on and is only just beginning." Full Review


“A vibrant and totally captivating production…The story of ‘Charm’ ultimately soft-shoes around the central dilemma it raises…Whether it’s a queer person’s job to make people feel comfortable…Dawkins doesn’t quite face head-on here. He tackles plenty, though, in creating palpable character portraits…Under Will Davis’ fine direction, the ensemble becomes a sort of family you’d choose for yourself if you could; it’s almost impossible...not to fall for every one of them.” Full Review


"A talented cast conjures the figures from Dawkins' fertile imagination, creating a group portrait that's vivid, credible, and heartbreaking...The company gives 'Charm' the vibrancy, as well as vulgarity, of urban street life, steering clear of any case-study detachment...Despite moments of caprice and the occasional creak of melodramatic machinery, 'Charm' is a work of compelling realism." Full Review

Daily Beast

"Nimbly directed by Will Davis...Thanks to the commitment and pumped-up energy of the actors, you are absolutely in that classroom with the company from 'Charm’s' charged first moment...The cast are uniformly excellent...'Charm' segues quickly from an intriguing set of relatable and intractable complexities to, quite literally, a bed of roses. The earlier, loud, tougher part of 'Charm' is a more challenging, fulfilling slice of drama." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"A truly outstanding company of performers...Davis knits them into a clearly cohesive and affectionate ensemble, while allowing each of them to shine...The intelligence of 'Charm' is that it’s actually structured around Mama's awakening, as much as it is around the the transformation of the Youth...The play’s more simplistic side emerges in the relative ease with which minds and people are changed for the better...If there is a whiff of unreality to 'Charm,' perhaps that is for the good." Full Review


"Dawkins’ play 'Charm' has Darleena—a black, transgender woman based on the real life Gloria Allen—teaching Emily Post’s behavioral principles to a group of feisty young people...How that’s all resolved—including a surreal visit from Emily Post herself—may be a little pat, but the play has spunk and humor and is blessed with a fine cast who devour their roles, as directed by Will Davis. Sandra Caldwell is fierce as Darleena." Full Review


"Performed with no small amount of grit and her own significant charm by Sandra Caldwell, Mama Darlin forces lessons they never thought they needed on this rowdy group...Initially interested only in the free food, the boisterous bunch—in smashing costumes by Oana Botez that speak to their personalities better than any gender pronouns—comes to respect, even love, this remarkable teacher who refuses to give up on them." Full Review

The Wrap

"In a slap-dash second act, Dawkins introduces some creaky plot mechanics...That’s unfortunate, though it ultimately does not detract from the overall power of its central character—or Caldwell’s performance. 'Charm' is on sturdier ground when the focus remains on its muse, who embraces old-fashioned values as a means to survive and even thrive in a culture too often given to incivility and ugliness." Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

Funny, Ambitious, Edgy, Entertaining

See it if You like well constructed dialogue and action. Although the ending could use a rewrite, the show presents a tightly woven and modern story.

Don't see it if You can't tolerate another play about the LGBTQ community.

Funny, Poignant, Ambitious, Relevant, Entertaining

See it if you like imaginative presentation of real life issues that affect the trans population; dynamic performances, & the audience was great!

Don't see it if you're not interested in diversity a.k.a. reality

Funny, Absorbing, Entertaining, Good casting, A bit nonsensical

See it if Interested in the lives and stories of people who are often marginalized, told in a touching, engaging way.

Don't see it if Don't want to acknowledge the struggles for transgender people, don't like a little fantasy, don't like the premise.

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Entertaining

See it if you can. A story about kindness and openness to all that works on several levels. Great cast

Don't see it if You don't like theater about LGBT issues, although Charm is, at least on one level, imore global than that

Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Quirky, Relevant, Confusing

See it if you like shows with LGBTQ+ themes, plays with smaller casts, a lot of dramatics

Don't see it if LGBTQ+ themes make you uncomfortable, you prefer more lighthearted shows

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Resonant, Entertaining

See it if You want to see a portrait of a heroine you haven't seen portrayed elsewhere , done with great heart

Don't see it if You have a problem with trans issues

Dizzying, Disappointing, Excruciating, Overrated, Offensive

See it if you like elitist, racist, transphobic, homophobic, misogynistic minstrel shows.

Don't see it if you think exploring identity politics excuses unforgivable mistakes.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Intelligent, Relevant

See it if You want to see a really well written, acted, directed, staged and very topical show. Well done!!

Don't see it if You have no interest in transgender issues or have no patience for anything even approaching political correctness.

Original, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Entertaining

See it if You like informative, well-performed, show about gender exploration and expression. Moving, funny, touching.

Don't see it if You can't understand that sex is not binary.

Funny, Absorbing, Great acting, Relevant, Resonant

See it if You like strong writing and strong actinyoug, and you want a play that is of the moment.

Don't see it if You don’t like plays with “current themes” or want a play that is non-liner. This is a straightforward work that’s good and entertaining.

Absorbing, Edgy, Great acting, Quirky, Great staging

See it if you have an interest in LGBT issues. The actors bring so much life to the play.

Don't see it if you need a well-formatted story. This one just seems to end. The ill-fitting conclusion negates the emotional climb of the rest of the play.

Edgy, Indulgent, Banal, Excruciating, Insipid

See it if I believe , if you have nothing good to say.......

Don't see it if Very over the top, and far too many sequins!

Funny, Absorbing, Quirky, Relevant, Resonant

See it if You enjoy LGBTQ drama.

Don't see it if You DO NOT enjoy LGBTQ dramas, it's about time you did!

A trans "to sir, with love"; unfocused; cliched; some witty moments

See it if you are interested in intergenerational trans politics and politics of gender identity. Unfortunately not much depth or character interest

Don't see it if you want fully rounded characters or writing that merges the personal with the political in dramatically engaging ways


See it if A moving take on young transgender people and the terrible situations that confront them. The play should be seen by those interested.

Don't see it if The subject matter bothers you and their is little sympathy for transgender, life is hard on them and they need a supporting audience.

Funny, Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Great writing

See it if you enjoy a drama with humor and pathos. Some scenes were amusing and others very touching. Good acting and nice use of stage.

Don't see it if you don't like dialogue about gays or transgenders. You can enjoy this show just as a well done drama.

Also I did not expect to enjoy this show as much as I did. The characters s... Read more Read less

Really funny, Really tragic, Really important truths

See it if You would love to laugh and realize you want to delve into the meaning behind the jokes, the pain and loneliness.

Don't see it if You alienate yourself from the LGBTQ community. You do not want to confront issues in our country around race, sexuality, poverty.

Ambitious, Edgy, Lots of heart, Needs trimming and tightening

See it if you enjoy seeing amateur actors in a very personal story, and are sympathetic to trans-gender themes and challenges.

Don't see it if you are expecting a polished script or consistent performances, or are sensitive to lots of yelling and coarse language.

Also This show has so much heart and the performances are sincere, but the ... Read more Read less

Funny, Refreshing, Relevant, Entertaining

See it if You want to see a play dealing with trans issues in a realistic, unsanitized way. There is one character to which everyone can relate.

Don't see it if You're disinterested in trans topics or easily offended.

Also I very much enjoyed the play until the end which I felt came out of no... Read more Read less

Funny, Absorbing, Clever, Thought-provoking, Entertaining

See it if you are interested in different life-styles and the difficulties of transgender individuals. you want a fun evening with a message.

Don't see it if you don't want to see transgender and other alternative lifestyles.

Funny, Absorbing, Refreshing, Resonant, Entertaining

See it if An important play about the struggles of low income/homeless trans youths. Thought provocking, funny and ultimately very moving.

Don't see it if You’re not interest in LGBT issues.

Thought-provoking, Quirky, Relevant, Entertaining

See it if You're interested in POVs from various members of (and outside) the LGBTQ+ community. You enjoy a small amount of shmaltz with your drama.

Don't see it if You find anything to do with gender identity boring or irrelevant to you as an audience member.

Funny, Absorbing, Great acting, Riveting, Great writing

See it if you like well written plays beautifully acted. It will make you laugh and cry. Each character is a gem.

Don't see it if you don't want to see Transgender issues on stage.

Clever, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Resonant

See it if You are interested in true stories about LGBTQ youth. Straight plays with real dialogue and three dimensional characters dealing with gender

Don't see it if You prefer grand productions or musicals. Have any issue exploring the realities of being an LGBTQ youth in modern society.

Thought-provoking, Relevant, Banal

See it if you want to support transgender performers in a play dealing with being transgender in these times.

Don't see it if While there are breakthroughs there is much of a "well-made play" about it touched with some Jean Brodie.

Cast & Creatives (16)