Northlight Theatre | Charm
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October 14, 2015 - November 8, 2015

World Premiere presented at Steppenwolf's Garage Theatre

Charm depicts the colorful inner workings of an etiquette class taught by Mama Darleena Andrews, an African-American transgender woman, in an LGBTQ organization known as The Center. Despite her students’ daily battles with identity, poverty and prejudice, Mama’s powerful love and unapologetic attitude ultimately help her pupils find a new way to respect each other and to redefine what “having charm” means.

Developed through Northlight’s Interplay Series, Charm is inspired by the true story of Miss Gloria Allen and her work at Center on Halsted. This new play carries a message of dignity and inclusion to all those it touches.

at Steppenwolf's Garage Theater
1624 N. Halsted Street, Chicago, IL 60614


Charm presented by Northlight Theatre at the Steppenwolf Garage: Theater review

Philip Dawkins’s new play is a beautiful portrait of pain, kindness and an LGBTQ community in transition.





Charm doesn’t start with a bang, exactly, but it does begin with a command. The elegant, no-nonsense Mama Darleena, played like the star she is by Dexter Zollicoffer, enters and announces that no funny business is going to be tolerated. We are to be polite and pay attention. This is good, because Charm is worth our attention.


Northlight artistic director BJ Jones does fantastic work here, unleashing moments of chaos, crisp wit and subtle heartbreak with equal aplomb. He brings Dawkins’s brilliant script to Technicolor life, and delivers a story that not only demands our attention but endlessly rewards it.


Read the full review>


Chicago Theater Stirs Up a Cyclone of Promising New Work




The black-box Steppenwolf Garage hosts the single biggest surprise of the season, the phenomenal new play Charm from Northlight Theater, the large suburban company that commissioned the play and is staging it in the city as a late addition to its season.


The play is filled with quips that keep stretches of the work light even as the stories it tells are real and serious and deep. Dawkins shows just how fluid “gender” can be as stereotypes, which impact the characters as much as they inform our initial impressions, peel away. It’s entertaining, extraordinarily moving, thoughtful and thought-provoking.



Read the full review>


New play about LGBTQ youth, based on a real Chicagoan, is utterly charming

3 1/2 STARS



In 2012, Tribune columnist Dawn M. Turner introduced Chicago to Gloria Allen, a 66-year-old transgender Chicagoan, who regularly ate lunch at the Center on Halsted with other senior members of the lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and questioning/queer community. Allen, who is African-American, cast her discriminating and experienced eye upon some of the young people who were frequenting the center and found them lacking in comportment, table manners and etiquette. Thus Allen started teaching a class therein.


A charm school, if you like, for LGBTQ youth.


Allen, widely called “Mama Gloria,” thus became the Emily Post of Halsted Street, offering young people guidance in dressing appropriately, interacting politely, taking care of their skin, making introductions. Northlight Theatre Artistic Director BJ Jones read that column and brought it to the attention of Chicago writer Philip Dawkins, who showed up at one of Mama Gloria’s classes, notebook in hand.


The fictionalized result opened Sunday night in Steppenwolf’s Garage Theatre (although this is technically a Northlight Theatre production). And Charm, as this world premiere is called, is not only charming but has the potential to be a real hit.


Read the full review>


The perfectly modern manners of Philip Dawkins’ Charm




Philip Dawkins’ altogether beguiling new play Charm, now receiving its world premiere in a Northlight Theatre production fittingly staged in the Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, could easily be summed up like this: Based on a true story, this is a look at what happens when a decidedly contemporary version of Emily Post arrives to teach an etiquette class at a place very much like the Center on Halsted, that gathering place dedicated to “securing the health and well-being of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people of Chicagoland.” But this would not even begin to suggest the play’s magic.


And as written by the immensely gifted Dawkins (whose tragicomic verve, open heart and distinctive way of dealing with sexual politics and social upheaval has previously been demonstrated in Miss Marx: or the Involuntary Side Effect of Living and The Homosexuals) – and as wonderfully realized by director BJ Jones and his exuberant cast – Charm even bears a quirky resemblance to George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.


Read the full review>


Northlight Theatre takes audiences to Charm school



When beloved Chicago transgender advocate ‘Mama’ Gloria Allen attends the opening night and world premiere of Charm, presented by the Skokie-based Northlight Theatre in the intimate setting of the Steppenwolf Garage Oct. 14, it will be one of the most extraordinary evenings in her 70 years of life.



It has been a life spent nurturing young transgender and gender nonconforming people in the discovery of their beauty, confidence, voice and noble place in a world still reluctant to offer them her treasured embrace.


The rest of the audience surrounding Allen may not understand just how unique of a position she is in. For as the houselights and chatter fade into silent anticipation, Allen will be as nervously excited as the actors preparing to take the stage in a play inspired by her own life and work.



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A transgender housemother schools her Boystown proteges in Northlight’s Charm at Steppenwolf Garage



Back in 2011 the Reader ran a feature titled “Grit & Glitter,” about Chicago’s underground ballroom scene: a gay, black subculture populated by “male-identified men, drag queens, transgender folks, and born women (whom ballroom participants call ‘allies’).” Though its social life revolves around late-night vogueing competitions, the scene’s real foundation is a network of “houses” (as in fashion houses) led by older members of the community, who are expected to mentor their younger peers. One such house runs the School of Opulence, which offers workshops not only in runway style but in skills the LGBTQ students are going to need to deal gracefully with a world that sometimes still doesn’t want to be their friend.


I thought of “Grit & Glitter” when I heard about Charm.


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Armand Fields


is extremely grateful and excited to be in his first production with Northlight. His Chicago credits include: Balm In Gilead with Griffin; Princess Mary Demands Your Attention (BTAA Nomination for Best Leading Actor) and F***ing Men with Bailiwick Chicago; Girl You Know It’s True with Pavement Group; Home and Woza Albert! with Fleetwood-Jourdain; Trouble In Mind with Artistic Home. Other Chicago credits: MPAACT, About Face and eta Creative Arts. Regional credits include: Ragtime and A Christmas Carol with Milwaukee Repertory, where he completed their 2013/2014 Acting Internship Program. He is a graduate of Second City’s Conservatory Program as well as The School at Steppenwolf.

Elizabeth Ledo


is thrilled to be a part of this very special project. Chicago credits include: The Secret Garden, Tartuffe, The Misanthrope, The Illusion, The Comedy of Errors, Titus Andronicus, Uncle Vanya, The Real Thing (Court); A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Amadeus, As You Like It, Funk It Up About Nothin’ (Chicago Shakespeare); Boleros for the Disenchanted, A Christmas Carol (Goodman); The Old Curiosity Shop (Lookingglass); The How and The Why (Timeline); Homebody/Kabul, Morningstar (Steppenwolf); The Homosexuals, Say You Love Satan (About Face); Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple (Drury Lane Oakbrook); Arms and the Man, Isaac’s Eye (Writers); The Chalk Garden (Northlight). Regional credits include: Notre Dame Shakespeare, Indiana Repertory, and Milwaukee Repertory. TV credits include: Boss, Chicago PD and Doubt. She is a proud graduate of Loyola University of Chicago.

Monica Orozco


is an actor and writer who has worked regionally with Goodman, Utah Shakespeare and Writers, amongst others. She is happy and grateful to be returning to Chicago and to the stage after some time away. Next up for Monica is a book project that is slated to be released next spring.

Julian Parker


Julian returns to Northlight after appearing in Charm. Stage credits include: Pass Over, Gospel of Franklin, BlackTop Sky, and understudy in Head of Passes (Steppenwolf); Genesis, Dutchman, and The Brothers’ Size (Definition Theatre Company); Seize the King (La Jolla Playhouse); Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Smart People (Writers); Prowess (Jackalope); Hairy Ape (Oracle Productions, Jeff Award recipient for Actor in a Principal Role); and The Royale (American Theatre Company). TV/Film: Pass Over (Amazon Studios, directed by Spike Lee); The Chi (Showtime); Chicago PD and Chicago Fire (NBC); and Home for the Weekend (Comedy Central). He is represented by Grossman & Jack Talent and managed by Authentic Talent. He is a co-founding member of Definition Theatre Company and received his BFA from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Awate Serequeberhan


is thrilled to be making his Northlight debut. Awate was recently seen in The Agency Theatre Collective’s Jeff Nominated world premiere two-person play Truth in Context. Awate is a recent graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University. Select credits include A Free Man of Color and The Phantom Tollbooth.

Matthew Sherbach

Lady/Emily Post

makes his Northlight debut with Charm. Regional credits include: Misalliance (Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey); The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (Company One). Chicago credits include: Teddy Ferrara (Goodman); The Taming of the Shrew, Short Shakespeare! The Taming of the Shrew, Short Shakespeare! A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Chicago Shakespeare); They’re Playing Our Song, Around the World in 80 Days (Fox Valley Repertory); Pony (About Face); Auctioning the Ainsleys, The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler (Dog & Pony); Red Noses (Strawdog); The Taming of the Shrew (Theo Ubique); Life in the Country, The Misanthrope (Greasy Joan); Yes To Everything 2: Son of Everything (First Floor). Matthew is a stakeholder with the Back Room Shakespeare Project and a frequent solo performer and storyteller at Salonathon.

Namir Smallwood


is pleased to be making his Northlight debut. Chicago theatre credits include Victory Gardens, Steppenwolf and Goodman. Regional credits include the Guthrie, Pillsbury House, Ten Thousand Things and Penumbra. He has also made appearances on NBC’s Chicago Fire and ABC’s Betrayal.

BrittneyLove Smith


is elated to be making her Northlight debut with Charm. She recently appeared in Dividing the Estate (Raven). She was also in the critically-acclaimed production of Ruined (Eclipse) as Salima, earning a BTAA nomination for Best Supporting Actress and a 2015 Non-Equity Jeff Nomination for Best Production. BrittneyLove was also a part of the touring production of Crime Scene (Collaboraction). Other Chicago credits include Doubt and Agnes of God (American Theatre Company); Unwilling and Hostile instruments (Theatre Seven); and Romeo and Juliet (Crowded Tub). She would like to thank BJ and Philip for their bravery and willingness to tell this story.

Dexter Zollicoffer


Dexter most recently appeared in The Little Foxes at Goodman. Other Goodman credits include Dartmoor Prison, The Odyssey, Blues for an Alabama Sky and A Christmas Carol. Chicago credits include: Water by the Spoonful, The Mystery Cycle (Court); To Kill a Mockingbird, A Lesson Before Dying, Pudd’nhead Wilson (Steppenwolf); Relatively Close, Knock Me a Kiss, The Sutherland (Victory Gardens); The Overwhelming (Next). Regional credits include: Blues for an Alabama Sky (Alabama Shakespeare); The Odyssey (McCarter Theatre Center, Seattle Repertory); Our Country’s Good (Berkeley Repertory); The Recruiting Officer, Our Country’s Good (Madison Repertory); Voice of Good Hope (BoarsHead); Permanent Collection (Indiana University Northwest). Television credits include: Chicago Fire, Detroit 1-8-7 and the upcoming feature Who Gets the Dog. He is also an administrator at The Theatre School at DePaul University.

Production Team

BJ Jones


BJ JONES is in his 25th season as Artistic Director of Northlight. Mr. Jones is a two-time Joseph Jefferson Award Winning actor and a three-time nominated director. He’s directed the world premieres of Charm (Jeff Award Best New Play), The Outgoing Tide (Jeff Award Best New Play), White Guy on the Bus (Jeff Nominated Best New Play), Chapatti (Nominated Jeff Award Best New Play), Better Late, and Rounding Third. Notably, he has directed productions of Outside Mullingar, Grey Gardens, The Price, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, and The Beauty Queen of Leenane. As a producer he has guided the three world premieres of The Christmas at Pemberley Trilogy (Jeff Award Best New Play), Shining Lives, The Last Five Years, and Studs Terkel’s ‘The Good War’. Additional directorial credits include Pitmen Painters (Timeline, Jeff Award Best Production); 100 Saints You Should Know (Steppenwolf); Glengarry Glen Ross (Alliance Theatre, Atlanta, Suzi Bass nomination Best Director); The Lady with All the Answers (Cherry Lane, New York); Animal Crackers (Baltimore Center Stage); Three Musketeers, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing (Utah Shakespeare Festival), and four productions at the Galway International Arts Festival. As a performer, he has appeared at Northlight, Goodman, Steppenwolf, Court, and other theatres throughout Chicago. Film/TV credits include The Fugitive, Body Double, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Early Edition, Cupid, and Turks, among others.

Philip Dawkins


Work includes the world premiere of Miss Marx: or the Involuntary Side Effect of Living (Strawdog), which won the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Work, as well as the critically-acclaimed plays The Homosexuals and Failure: A Love Story, which both also received Joseph Jefferson Nominations for New Work after their world premieres with About Face (2011) and Victory Gardens (2012) respectively. His plays are published and available through Playscripts, Inc. as well as Dramatic Publishing.  A graduate of Loyola University Chicago, Mr. Dawkins is an Ensemble Playwright at Victory Gardens, and an Artistic Associate of About Face, where his new play, Le Switch, will premiere this winter.

Alan E Schwanke

Asst. Director

is a Chicago-based scenic designer recently returned from the Pacific Northwest where he worked as the Resident Scenic Design Assistant for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival from 2010 – 2014. Local design credits include: Turn of the Screw (Chicago Fringe Opera); Willy Wonka The Musical (Chicago Shakespeare); Knute Rockne All American, Footloose (Theatre at the Center); John & Jen (Apple Tree); Aladdin, High School Musical (Marriott); Pippin, Chicago Sound Connection, Suitcase, Mad Forest and Tonight at Eight (Northwestern University). Regional Credits include designs for Portland Center Stage, Milwaukee Repertory, Profile, Artists Repertory, Coho, Portland Playhouse, Theatre Squared and Spokane Opera. Alan earned his MFA in Scenic Design at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and was a participant in both the USITT Young Designer’s Forum as well as Ming Cho Lee’s Clambake Portfolio Review in New York City.

Izumi Inaba

Costume Design

Northlight: The Mousetrap, You Can’t Take It With You, Charm, Faceless, The Mother of the Maid, Mansfield Park, How A Boy FallsRegional: Dishwasher Dreams (Writers Theatre, Hartford Stage), Fahrenheit 451 (Indiana Repartory Theatre); Million Dollar Quartet Christmas (Evan Bernardin Productions, The Phoenix Theatre Company); Pride and Prejudice (Long Wharf Theatre); King of The Yees (Goodman Theatre, Kirk Douglas Theatre); Cambodian Rock Band (Victory Gardens Theater, City Theatre Company, Merrimack Repertory); The Who And The What (Milwaukee Rep); Animal Farm (Milwaukee Rep, Baltimore Center Stage); Other credits: Animal Farm, The Crucible, We Are Proud To Present…, The Constellations, A Doll’s House, Part 2 (Steppenwolf Theatre Company); An Issue Of Blood, The House That Will Not Stand, A Wonder In My Soul, If I Forget (Victory Gardens Theater)Smart People, A Doll’s House (Writers Theatre); Harvey, Titanic (Court Theatre). Affiliations: United Scenic Artists USA-829. Educa­tion: M.F.A. in Stage Design, Northwestern University.

JR Lederle

Lighting Design

Northlight credits include The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Relativity, By the WaterCharmShining LivesOutside MullingarWhite Guy on the Bus,  Detroit ’67The Odd CoupleTen ChimneysSeason’s GreetingsA LifeGrey GardensThe Retreat From MoscowLadyStella & Lou, The Outgoing TideBetter Late and Chapatti (the last four also at the Galway International Arts Festival, Ireland). Other work has been seen at Lookingglass, Victory Gardens, About Face, Remy Bumppo, Writers, Steppenwolf and Walkabout. JR designed lighting for seven years of the Steppenwolf TRAFFIC Series, and five Steppenwolf performances in Chicago’s Millennium Park. He has served as head of the Lighting Department at Steppenwolf since 1995.

Lindsay Jones

Sound Design

Broadway: Slave Play, The Nap, Bronx Bombers, and A Time to Kill. Off Broadway: Privacy (The Public Theater), Bootycandy (Playwrights Horizons), Rx (Primary Stages), Top Secret (New York Theatre Workshop), and many others. International: Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford Festival, many others. Regional: South Coast Repertory, Arena Stage, Goodman, McCarter, Steppenwolf, Guthrie, Hartford Stage, Chicago Shakespeare, Woolly Mammoth, and others. Film scoring: The Brass Teapot (Magnolia Pictures) and the Academy Award–winning A Note of Triumph (HBO Films). Audio drama work includes A Streetcar Named Desire for Audible, and the award-winning weekly podcast for children The Imagination Neighborhood. Lindsay has received two Tony Award nominations for Best Score and Best Sound Design of a Play, seven Joseph Jefferson Awards and 24 nominations; two Ovation Awards and three nominations; and many others.

Polly Hubbard


is a freelance dramaturg. Selected development: Matthew-Lee Erlbach’s Sex of the Baby (Access); José Rivera’s The Last Book of Homer, Madhuri Shekar’s Queen, Martín Zimmerman’s Seven Spots on the Sun (Victory Gardens Ignition Festival); David Mitchell Robinson’s The Imaginary Music Critic Who Doesn’t Exist (Steppenwolf First Look); Lauren Yee’s Dinner Party Play and Troy Deutch’s The Rose Garden (American Theatre Company); Matthew-Lee Erlbach’s Kevin Lamb (SPACE on Ryder Farm). Upcoming: Calamity West’s Rolling (Jackalope). Related experience: former Literary Agent with Abrams Artists Agency (NYC); Managing Associate & Company Manager at Cherry Lane; and stints in various capacities with ATC, The Kilroys, 13P, New Harmony Project, Lark Play Development Center, Princess Grace Awards, and Amnesty International. Education: Oberlin College, University of Evansville.

Jonathan Nook

Stage Manager

is making his Northlight debut with Charm and is thrilled to be doing so at home in the Garage. Local stage management credits include Grand Concourse, This is Modern Art (based on true events), The Night Alive, Okay, Bye., Leveling Up, Buena Vista, The Drunken City, South of Settling, Want, Closer Than I Appear & No Sugar Tonight (both featuring Jeff Garlin), Animals Out of Paper, The North Plan and Sex with Strangers (Steppenwolf); The Upstairs Concierge (Goodman); Side Man, Collected Stories, Waiting for Lefty (American Blues); To Master the Art (Chicago Commercial Collective/Timeline); Invisible Man, Orlando, Sizwe Banzi is Dead, The Year of Magical Thinking, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and The Piano Lesson (Court); Radio Macbeth (SITI Company/Court); Hair (American Theater Company); The North Plan (Theater Wit); Freshly Fallen Snow (Chicago Dramatists). He also served three seasons as Production Manager for Remy Bumppo.