The cast of Charm at The Mixed Blood Theater. Photo by Ryan Rich.
Charm at the Mixed Blood Theater closed last weekend, and I am grateful to have been able to see it before it closed. The play by Phillip Dawkins bites off quite a bit to chew in it's two hour running time. Focusing on the lives of a group of young people in Chicago, many of whom are transgender. It is unclear to say who the play centers on, but the common factor is Mama Darleena Andrews played by Mizz June, a older transgender woman who starts a charm class at a community center for LGBTQI. It is through her class and her interactions that we meet the rest of the group, her students.
There is Ariela, a transgender woman who is just trying to make it in this world by any means necessary, and also looking for a mother figure and a friend, played regally by by Rehema Mertinez. Jonelle who had the best wigs in the entire show played by Alyssandra Taylor. Victoria and Donnie, a homeless married couple with children, both parts played beautifully by Jennifer Waweru and Ryan Colbert respectively. There is Beta, a past gang member, played by Jay Simmons. Lady, who in my opinion was the most heartbreaking one of the group, played by Jay Owen Eisenberg. And Logan, who is a college student from a wealthy family who fits in better than we would expect played by Nathan Barlow.
Nathan Barlow and Alyssandra Taylor in Charm. Photo by Ryan Rich.
All of these characters together come together and form a unit. This unit at many times is rambunctious, talking over each other, to the point where I was using the captions above the stage to follow what was being said. This was a new experience for me in a theater, but a scene in which in is hard to discern voices over everyone talking over each other seemed very real. And as the play went on, and a community and respect was formed among the group I found myself having to use the captions less (which I was grateful for).
The play addressed many issues important in the transgender community. The use of importance of a name and use of proper gender pronouns. How gender and sexuality are on a spectrum and for some these expressions are fluid. The exploitation of people who are transgender in the sex industry. These points were made through the struggles, and some joys in the character's lives. As well as by mistakes that the characters make, that are later corrected. What I found very interesting is that many of these mistakes were made by the older transgender woman, mentor, herself. The corrections made by the head of the center D, played by Meighan Gerachis.
At times some of these explanations felt like a dressed up lecture, or an after school movie. But perhaps it is best not to beat around the bush and just explain things. After all these are topics that are hard for many of us to fully understand.
Mixed Blood certainly proved that it is stepping up, and keeping true to its mission of "using theater to address artificial barriers that keep people from succeeding in American society."