In ‘Charm,’ Challenges Emily Post Never Dreamed Of

Posted on: September 19th, 2017 by admin No Comments

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.