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A CurtainUp Review
I Am My Own Wife
Studies for a Play About the Life of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf

I Am My Own Wife Off-Broadway Premiere
I Am My Own Wifeat the Duke of York's
I Am My Own Wife on Broadway

See allso the only production to date featuring two actors: I Am My Own Wife -- 2-Actor Production

In I Am My Own Wife Doug Wright wisely sticks to the old formula: Boy meets Transvestite - Boy loses Transvestite (in moral quagmire) - Boy gets Transvestite back (through the redemptive power of art). The play is indeed something of a love affair. Wright casts himself as Michael York in Cabaret with the aforementioned iconic trannie, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, as his real life Sally Bowles. We chart his progress from rapture and infatuation with the loved one, through confusion and horror as he learns more about her, to an ultimate acceptance of her mystery and his own inability to judge her life.

And perhaps something is lost along the way as his heroine is transformed from a real person into an aloof icon of the gay survivor against all the odds. One suspects the echt Charlotte was more slippery and sinister than she is allowed to appear here. Whatever the truth of her life, the first half of the play works better than the second as the baffled author is stripped of his initial certainties and plunged into a world of middle-European ambiguities, as if a Tennessee Williams play had been hi-jacked by Kafka.

What the Duke of York's lacks in intimacy it makes up in faded gentility, entirely in keeping with the seedy glories of the Grunderzeit Museum and Derek McLane's set works brilliantly against the large proscenium. But of course, the night belongs to Jefferson Mays, whose performance - with its awe-inspiring combination of command, timing, and common humanity -- is up there in the solo pantheon along with Megan Dodds' re-creation of Rachel Corrie.

If Charlotte von Mahlsdorf has found her Mr Wright in the author, then he in turn has found his Absolutely Mr Right in Jefferson Mays.
Running time: 2 hours, with one 20 minute interval.
Exactly same cast and credits as New York original
Reviewed by Brian Clover on 21st November 2005 at the Duke of York's St Martin's Lane London WC2
Booking to 4th February 2005

I Am My Own Wife On Broadway
Jefferson Mays as Charlotte von Mahlsdorf
Jefferson Mays as Charlotte von Mahlsdorf
(Photo: Joan Marcus )
Playwright Horizon's premiere show in it's new home extended again and again. Now that I've seen the play in its new home, I can only say that Mays is more remarkable than ever and that the production has found a perfect Broadway home. Even though I saw the play for the second time, I was again bowled over and surprised by its more surprising moments -- like the sudden visibility of the mind-boggling accumulation of artifacts and Mays' segues from one personality to another.

As a rule, I am not a fan of one-person plays. But when such plays are good they can be very good indeed and I Am My Own Wife is certainly a case in point. It is a full-bodied play, rich with fascinating characters, chief among them the nun-like Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. And in case a cross-dressing hero-heroine doesn't seem like a subject with broad appeal, Charlotte is more than a man in a black dress and pearls but an unforgettable, complex human being to whom anyone can relate. Excapt for the theater address and performance details, production notes following my original review remain the same. -- Elyse Sommer, re-reviewed 12/05/03.

Lyceum, 149 w. 45th St.. 212-239-6900
Written by Doug Wright
Directed by Moisés Kaufman
Starring Jefferson Mays.
Running time: 2 hours and 5 minutes with one intermission
From 10/28/03; opening 12/03/03.
Tues-Sat @ 8pm, Wed and Sat @2pm, Sun@3pm.
Tkts $25-- $75.
Last Broadway performance before natgional tour: 10/31/04

I Am My Own Wife Off-Broadway Premiere
When families died, I became this furniture. When the Jews were deported in the Second World War, I became it. When citizens were burned out of their homes by the Communists, I became it. After the coming of the Wall, when the old mansion houses were destroyed to create the people's architecture, I became it.
--Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, nee Lothar Berfelde, commenting on the collection of of cultural artifacts the preservation of which garnered her Medal of Honor -- an honor that came into question when her connection with the dreaded East German Stasi security organization came to light.
Instead of wringing our hands over the dearth of original plays, let's rejoice that New Yorkers can currently see two outstanding original dramas: Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out, and Doug Wright's I Am My Own Wife. Each is at once moving and funny, and revolves around a man with a non-traditional sexual orientation.

Take Me Out is about an iconic young American baseball player who goes public as a gay man. His story is told through his interaction with a sizeable cast of actors playing his team mates, his coach and his financial adviser. The gender bending central character in I Am My Own Wife is actually a She-- German transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, born Lothar Berfelde in 1928 and more often a victim on the playing field of Germany during and after World War II than a victor on the baseball diamond.

Wright's play has even more characters than Greenberg's -- one of them the author (in contrast to Greenberg's fictional stand-in, Mason Marzac) but he has structured it to be told by a single actor. The often over-used term tour-de-force is more than justified to describe Jefferson Mays' amazing rendition of Charlotte and everyone else who crosses her path.

As Mays brings this fascinating script to vivid life, so the subtle direction of Moisés Kaufman (his Gross Indecency and The Laramie Project featured sizeable casts but touched on homosexual issues) and the designers stunning illustration of mood and character shifts enhance the overall dramatic experience. Put this collaborative excellence together and it adds up to a solo play that's never less than a full-featured, unforgettable theatrical experience.

On the surface, I Am My Own Wife may sound like a familiar tale about a man who as a teenager discovers he likes dressing up as a woman. But this is no ordinary tale of gender transformation.

For one thing, May's Charlotte is a far remove from the flamboyance one associates with cross dressers. Except for a simple strand of pearls, she-he is almost nondescript in a basic costume consisting of a plain black dress, sensible shoes and nun-like head covering. Her manner too is soft, low-key, more enigmatic than exotic and her passion is not in the realm of sex but antiques of the 1890s, the collector's single-minded devotion making its own statement about the Germanic fixation on purposeful dedication to a cause.

It is as Charlotte lovingly handles and talks about some of these objects that we learn the facts about her life. These confidences are part of interviews conducted by the author in person and via a long-term correspondence. The presence of the author as one of the characters imparts a distinctive documentary flavor and gives the play a Pirandello-like twist when further research casts doubt on the validity of the interviews -- leaving Wright and the audience with perplexing questions about attitudes towards survivors who don't live up to our rose-colored visions.

Our first view of Mays shows him moving slowly behind a wall that initially looks solid but turns out to be a scrim which is periodically lit up to reveal the vast collection of clocks, lamps, sofas, sideboards, knickknacks, kitchen implements, gramophones and recordings from Charlotte's Grunderzeit Museum. He starts to speak, stops, as if too shy, but when he returns to take us bit by bit, character by character through his remarkable life, his low-key manner captivates us, so that our sympathy is almost unassailable, even when we realize that there's a darker side hidden behind the deep, sparkling eyes and the benign little old lady persona.

The back and forth switches between characters are accomplished so smoothly and with on the mark accents that there's never a moment's confusion about who's speaking. Among those we meet besides Charlotte and the playwright are Wright's reporter friend, Charlotte's abusive Nazi father and influential Lesbian aunt, members of the Nazi SS and East Germany's Stasi security organization, and the fellow antique dealer whose death for their joint black market antique dealing is subject to interpretation depending upon whose truth you choose to believe.

The events spanned include the killing of the father. . .  Charlotte's sentencing to and escape from juvenile prison during the Allied bombing raids. . .  the evolving passion for the treasures of 1890s and the founding of the museum and the conversion of its basement into a refuge for the underground gay community tagged by Charlotte as "the only surviving Weimar cabaret in East Germany." The play concludes with the post reunification events.

To give just one example of director Kaufman's many terrific touches there's the scene after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when asked by Wright what it was like to visit the West again, May's gentle lady in black burst into a dance accompanied by pulsating music and a blaze of red lights. It's a funny and poignant moment in a unique saga that captivates us even though its hero-heroine may, like those lovingly collected artifacts, be chipped.

Quills by Doug Wright Rosenkrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, WTF production with Jefferson Mays
Gross Indecency and
directed by Moisés Kaufman

Written by Doug Wright
Directed by Moisés Kaufman
Cast: Jefferson Mays
Set Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Janice Pytel
Lighting Design: David Lander
Sound Design: Andre J. Pluess and Ben Sussman
Doll furniture designed by Paul Eric Pape
Running time: 2 hours and 5 minutes with one intermission
Playwrights Horizon, 416 W. 42nd St, 212/ 279-4200 or
5/02/03-6/08/03--extended to 7/20/03 and again to 8/03/03; opening 5/27/03.
Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 3 & 8 PM and Sundays at 3 & 7:30 PM.
Tickets are $50. Student Rush Tickets will be available for $15 (cash only, day of performance).
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 5/28 performance
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