In works like “The Homosexuals” and “Le Switch,” the Chicago-based playwright Philip Dawkins has written about the closet, self-loathing and gay marriage. In “Charm,” the first of his plays to be seen in New York, he turns his attention to another letter in the LGBTQ spectrum. The play focuses on Mama Darleena Andrews, a black, 67-year-old transgender woman who teaches an etiquette class for homeless youth at a Chicago gay community center. (She is based on a real Chicago woman named Gloria Allen.) But her young students face problems, like hunger, that make table manners seem trivial.
For the New York production MCC Theater sought “as many transgender and gender-nonconforming artists as possible.” The director, Will Davis, is transgender and Darleena will be played here by Sandra Caldwell, whose life experience seems to give the play a stamp of authenticity: “Sometimes it feels like I’m reading my own story.”
The first play I ever reviewed was Amy Herzog’s “Belleville,” directed by Anne Kauffman at New York Theater Workshop — and, boy, was I glad it was good. I admired the way Ms. Herzog drove the story of a badly mismatched American couple on two tracks at once: the naturalistic, incremental accumulation of plot and the sudden, anarchic lurchings of mood.
In her latest play, Ms. Herzog, working again with Ms. Kauffman at the same theater, applies that technique to an even more upsetting story. Carrie Coon (“The Leftovers”) stars as the title character, a mother whose son was born three months premature. Now, almost three years later, her husband having been unable to deal with the consequences, she is left alone to care for a toddler who cannot toddle — or speak or eat on his own. And yet Mary Jane is not totally alone, as the real world and the busy world of illness merge.
When invited to answer questions or sing a song or lick…