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Photo: Sara Krulwich

OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Charm

September 18, 2017:

To an etiquette maven like Miss Darleena Andrews — you can call her Mama — proper introductions are crucial. So I wish that Philip Dawkins’s “Charm,” which opened on Monday at the Lucille Lortel Theater, did a better job of acquainting us with her unusual story.

The premise is promising. Mama, a 67-year-old black transgender woman with an abiding faith in Emily Post, volunteers to teach a class in manners to the rough young transgender clients of a Chicago L.G.B.T.Q. center. From her own experience she understands how the niceties of proper conversation, of compliments and salad forks, can serve as talismans against despair, or at least as a kind of insurance against the loss of youthful appeal.

The seven rowdy students who show up are not, at first, convinced by the retired nurse in the ladylike pink suit. “I ain’t got no table! The hell I spose to do with table manners?” hoots Donnie, who is homeless, cisgender and straight. Why he attends Mama’s class, then, is something of a mystery, unless it is in search of food or to tick an otherwise empty box on Mr. Dawkins’s agenda. For “Charm” is one of those lifeboat stories, in which a handpicked cross-section of disparate characters, trapped together in a small space, squabble, reveal themselves and try not to drown.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: In the Blood

September 17, 2017:

Tragedy stalks Hester La Negrita, the heroine of Suzan-Lori Parks’s “In the Blood,” as relentlessly as it does the doomed queens of Euripides and Racine. Played with exquisitely clouded radiance by Saycon Sengbloh in the Signature Theater’s first-rate revival of this genre-mutating 1999 drama, the illiterate Hester would probably never presume to talk in such highfalutin terms.

Though she tries her hardest to live as if were otherwise, Hester intuits that destiny will be ruthless with her. How could it not be with this impoverished mother of five, spurned not just by lovers past but also by the world whose margins she inhabits so tenuously?

On one sunny day in the dirty city, Hester sees a full solar eclipse that is visible to no one else. It was, she says, like “the hand of fate with its five fingers coming down on me.” Ms. Sengbloh endows the description with a raptness that stops time, and an abject figure acquires majesty.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Frozen

September 15, 2017: As the first brooding chords of the song “Let It Go” arose from the orchestra, a whisper of wonder overswept the audience. And then a mighty sound began. It wasn’t Elsa.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday

September 13, 2017:

Ghosts, pets and arguments without outcomes: These are reliable telltales of the work of Sarah Ruhl, whose new play, “For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday,” includes a long, digressive scene featuring all of them.

In it, five Irish Catholic siblings, now of Lipitor-popping age, sit bickering aimlessly around the kitchen table of their childhood home in Davenport, Iowa. They have reconvened, for the first time in what seems like forever, on the occasion of the death of their father, George. And George, too, is there, if only they could see him, along with their long-dead dog.

It’s a perfect example of what Ms. Ruhl, in her marvelous book “100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write,” calls the “Ovidian form”: Magic is everywhere, stories don’t have arcs and nobody learns a lesson. The theater, she argues, should be more akin to poetry and pageantry than (as she sometimes despairs) legalistic argumentation.

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