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I Am My Own Wife

Art survives. --- Charlotte von Mahlsdorf
Form imitates content in Doug Wright's amazing construction. It's based on his interviews with German collector/preservationist/transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a real person firmly entrenched in unreality who endured both the Nazi and the Communist regimes in 20th century Germany and lived to tell the tale. Lots of tales, some of them taller than others. Playwright Enid Bagnold once had a character in The Chalk Garden muse about "the truth of fact and the truth of truth" and Charlotte wouldn't need to have that explained to her.

All 40 roles are played by the amazing Jefferson Mays and that again underlines the fecundity and focus of Wright's work. Moises Kaufman's dramatic exposition of such bio-dramas as The Laramie Project and Gross Indecencies: The Trial of Oscar Wilde make him a natural for this project and he succeeds brilliantly in making the high drama of Charlotte and her life seem absolutely inevitable. The set design by Derek McLane which displays shelves of collectors' items and gramophones behind a translucent wall which are pinpointed and soft-lighted by David Lander also echoes the multiplicity of themes and layers in this life story.

Rather than begin at the beginning and go on to "The next song I wrote" biography or do the traditional one-person reminiscence in the style of Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst,Wright begins at his beginning. He hears about Charlotte from a journalist friend, he's fascinated, he interviews her and then he goes from there.

With the input of Mays and director Moises Kaufman, he dramatizes the interviews and has the guts to face the moment when his heroine loses her wings. She's accused of betraying a friend to the authorities. She says her friend told her he was lost anyway and she should save herself. When the case surfaced years later in the tabloids and Wright questions her about it, her response is to tell him about a sweater she knitted for her friend in prison. She decorated it with buttons from her collection and she tells Wright, "These hands have done many things. For him I learned to knit." Whatever she's done, she remains faithful to who she is. A transvestite whose feminine dress is always the little black dress and pearls that are the costume of a proper elegant lady. An art historian in her own special way who goes around after bombings and before the rape of houses and cafes to collect and preserve. Someone who inspires the playwright who chronicles her to tells us he finds it necessary to believe someone like Charlotte could exist in this world.

Editor's Note: Winning the 2003-04 Pulitzer, the first ever for a show featuring a single actor, guaranteed this play many productions all over the world. It may keep Jefferson Mays on the road, at least part of each year as has been the case for Hal Holbrook's Mark Twain play. For reviews of the play's premiere at Playwrights Horizon and again when it transferred to Broadway go here.

Playwright: Doug Wright
Director: Moises Kaufman
Cast: Jefferson Mays (Charlotte)
Set Design: Derek McLane
Lighting Design: David Lander
Costume Design: Janice Pytel
Sound Design: Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman
Running Time: Two hours 20 minutes with one intermission
Running Dates: June 14-July 10, 2005
Where: A Geffen Theatre production at The Wadsworth Playhouse, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Bldg 226, Brentwood, Ph: (310) 208-6500, x 144.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on June 15, 2005.

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