Theater and the City is a column of student-written reviews in the ENGL 400 class taught by Deirdre O’Leary Cunningham.
This week’s entry is by Christopher Nuzzo.
In the height of the movement for LGBTQ rights, Ms. Darleena Andrews is a breath of fresh air for these 20-somethings to inhale. Played by Sandra Caldwell, Mama Darleena is brought to life as a vibrant trans woman who believes in the power of charm. She teaches etiquette classes to other transgender individuals of the Chicago community, attempting to introduce manners into the lives of the people she touches. “Charm” is a beautifully heartbreaking play (based on a true story) attempting to bring us into the life of a transgender person, and some of the challenges they face in a society that rejects them for their very being. From the play we are left with a simple truth: charm can be learned, but beauty is already in each one of us.
Darleena Andrews is a woman who has a particular way of looking at the world. In the LGBT center of Chicago, she brings this outlook to the youth that attend classes there. Broken down by discrimination and disease, the members of the class learn to rely on their charm, and each other, to push themselves through life at a meager pace. While one student struggles to get himself out of gang life safely, another woman struggles with the burden HIV, and one young woman struggles to discover her own identity. Through Mama, these struggles, while still present on the surface, are forgotten if even just for an hour. Manners are an important thing to Mama, and the dwellers in the Chicago LGBT center have everything but just that. Despite the fact that they use crude language and ravage any food that comes their way, Mama is patient with each member of her classes, and protects them as though they were her own family. Whether it be taking someone into her own home to live with her, or bringing pizza to the class for the students to eat, Mama inconveniences herself for the betterment of the people she touches. In the end, we come to find that while all her students gained a little bit of charm, their inner beauty was what really mattered all along.
Probably the most heartbreaking narrative of all was that of Ariela, played by Hailie Sahar. The oldest person in the class besides Mama, Ariela has faced many hardships throughout her life as a trans woman. Her monologue towards the end of the show reveals that she has been forced into a life of prostitution, and has contracted HIV on purpose for a way to gain access to health care and other services. Possibly the hardest hitting line in the show, Ariela says, “Nobody paid attention to me until I started dying.” This is the sad truth for many people in the LGBTQ community, especially trans women of color. “Charm” brought light to the fact that many of these people have been left without resources. With not only Ariela’s character, the show was very representative of the unrepresented people of the community, and gave them a chance to tell their stories that would have never been told otherwise.
Lady (the fabulous Marky Irene Diven) was another substantially important character when it came with discovering identity and the troubling reality of the transgender community. The journey that people within the community make is a struggle on its own. Mama facilitates an environment for the people in the class to build each other up, and support one another. Mama asserts that, “The whole world is already out there trying to knock you down. You don’t need that from each other. In here, we build each other up!” The loving environment fostered was important for Lady to later figure out her identity.
This Emily Post-esque play is extremely important in this day in age. The awareness of the rights of LGBTQ individuals and the pressures they face on a daily basis is important not only for the people who remain uninformed, but the closeted people of the community who need the courage and strength to move forward. Mama Darleena, who is based on a real person, continues to expel her love in affection in her own way. In a community based on love, “Charm” is the glue that unites a group of people in the name of beauty, and of course, charm.
Editor’s Note: Christopher Nuzzo is a Staff Writer for The Quadrangle.