Charm Review - A Work Forever in Progress

Authored by critically-acclaimed playwright Philip Dawkins, CHARM inaugurates Celebration Theatre’s 2016 season with a bang. Chicago-based Dawkins collaborated with artistic directors Michael Matthews and Michael A. Shepperd to offer an intriguing tale of what it takes to live with poverty, prejudice, and conflicting gender identity.

Lana Houston as Mama Darleena - Photo by Matthew Brian Denman

The “Center” is a shelter and safe place for the LGBTQ community in Chicago. An African-American transgender woman, Mama Darleena Andrews shares her views about proper behavior under all circumstances with a youth group still struggling with sexual, racial, and gender issues. She’s an expert on tough love and facing problems squarely but with decorum. Mama Darleena hopes to teach her students how to cope with their daily battles, respond with self-control and charm, and come out winners.

Esteban Andres Cruz, Lana Houston, Ashley Romans, Armand Fields, and Chris Aguila - Photo by Matthew Brian Denman

An excellent cast headed by Lana Houston as Mama Darleena, in her 60’s and still working on coming to terms with the curves life has thrown her, CHARM explores a variety of problems faced by today’s homeless youth, including domestic abuse and being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and even “without a gender designation.” From transgender Hispanic hooker Ariela (Esteban Andres Cruz) to gay Caucasian college-bound Logan (Alexander Hogy) to tough African-American gang-banger Beta (in reality a gal in guy’s clothing), each and every participant has a story to tell. The richly diverse tales emerge with crushing – and sometimes downright funny – regularity as the group slowly discovers each other’s secrets. After all, as one character opines, “You’re like an iPhone…just because you have extra apps doesn’t mean that you’re broken.”

Lana Houston and Rebekah Walendzak - Photo by Matthew Brian Denman

Mama Darleena is herself not immune to the slow unfolding of personalities. What could possibly be the hidden secret in a woman who seems to have it all and know it all – and still maintains her ability to be ever gracious and charming? Award-winning director Michael Matthews has his hands full helming this diverse group, but he succeeds admirably in “herding these cats” with skill and insight.

Esteban Andres Cruz and Lana Houston - Photo by Matthew Brian Denman

Archer Alstaetter’s set is simple yet effective, ably enhanced by Matthew Brian Denman’s quirky lighting, Cricket S. Myers’ sound, and Allison Dillard’s costumes. CHARM is a fascinating study of a variety of cultures personified and brought to life by a talented author, a skilled director, and able and enthusiastic actors. CHARM just goes to prove that a little etiquette can go a long way.

Alexander Hogy, Chris Aguila, and Ashley Romans - Photo by Matthew Brian Denman

CHARM runs through October 23, 2016, with performance at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Celebration Theatre is located at 6760 Lexington Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90038. Tickets range from $20 (Thursdays only) to $40. For information and reservations, call 323-957-1884 or go online.  

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