Atlas of Charles: Charleses





by JK Clarke


Time-worn maxims have a funny way of being both cliché and, at times, totally a propos. Take for instance the old saw, “the more things change, the more they remain the same” (which sounds better in the French novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr’s original epigram, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”) We can all agree that, in many instances, this is a very accurate observation. And that’s the premise of Charleses, a new play by Carl Holder, running through the end of this week at The Brick in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.


Following a few meaningful life highlights of three generations of men—all of whom are named Charles, to highlight their similarities, apparently—in a small American town, Charleses sets out to point out how despite the differences we think exist between generations, there are minutiae of everyday life that seem to resurface in everyday life, whether we realize it or not. Every Charles in this play has a bonding moment with his Charles father in a car ride, in getting ice cream, or in shaving, to cite but a few examples. These are the sort of moments that would cause relatives or strangers to casually observe, “wow, you’re just like your father, he did that the very same way!”



Produced by The Tank and directed by Meghan Finn, Charleses features three actors, Richard Toth, Mike Shapiro, and Fernando Gonzalez (who plays the child Charles roles most believably, and differentiates young Charles from older Charles quite admirably). But the play not only features no women on stage, but, curiously, makes no mention of women in these mens’ lives—which can’t help but lead one to the conclusion that a world without women is rather dull. We watch Charles grow up, have conflicts with his father and/or grandfather, go through various stages of adulthood and then old age and finally death. It’s very much a cycle of life experience. Unfortunately it feels at times like we’re seeing it play out in real time.


Later in the play we get to see the life of a sandwich shop evolve through various iterations: from gas station with food, to specialty sandwich shop for the working guy, to the place where the gentrifying interlopers sort of ruin it for the locals. It’s an interesting set of observations, but feels almost tacked on to the original story of the Charleses. The pieces might work better as a short film, with visuals filling in for extraneous, extemporaneous dialog.


Ultimately Charleses relies on the audience’s ability to find fascination in the mundane. Whether or not we think the repeated family traits on display are genetic or merely learned is up to us. The big question is whether we can sit through an hour and a half of these ponderings.


Charleses. Through April 29 at The Brick (575 Metropolitan Avenue, at Lorimer, Brooklyn).


Photos: Josh Luxenberg