I Am My Own Wife
A Schubert Organization
149 West 45th Street
In association with
by Doug Wright
Jefferson Mays as Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, et al.
Directed by Moises Kaufman
Scenic Design: Derek McLane
Lighting Design: David Lander
Costume Design: Janice Pytel
Sound Design: Andre J. Pluess
General Manager: Niko Companies, Ltd.
Production Stage Manager: Nancy Harrington
Production Supervisor: Arthur Siccardi
Press: Richard Kornberg and Associates
Producers: David Richenthal, Anthony Marshall, Charlene Marshall, Playwrights Horizons.
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
Matinee, May 22, 2004
I have never felt so intellectually riveted to a one-person production, as I was today in Jefferson Mays’ presentation of the almost true story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, as told to Doug Wright, and presented in the exquisitely dim set of old Victrolas and clocks, furniture and miniatures. Charlotte, the main character in I Am My Own Wife, was born in Germany in the 1920’s as Lothar Berfelde, a boy, who liked to dress in women’s clothing.
His aunt, a woman in men’s clothing, encouraged the young Lothar to follow his instincts and gave him a book on transvestism. This book changed his life. Charlotte, self-named for his aunt’s lover, who thought of herself as a woman, eventually dressed in a long, heavy black frock, simple black head scarf, comfortable black shoes, no makeup, and a string of pearls. Charlotte loved to collect. She collected antique furniture, clocks, Victrolas, gramophones, miniature furniture, and hundreds of interesting objects for her museum in Berlin.
Each object had a story, each record played a song, and each clock recorded the time, as it passed through Nazi, Russian, and Skinhead rule and occupation. Doug Wright, an American writer, looking for interviews with Charlotte, became so obsessed with her, in his travel to Germany, that he returned over and over again in the 1990’s to write a book and a play about this amazing survivor of violent history and parental abuse. Mr. Wright admits in a caveat that there are extra characters or a stretching of the interview content, in order to create the seamless scenes and the split timing of character dialogues.
It is just these character dialogues, among other inherently extraordinary elements, that make I Am My Own Wife such a mesmerizing production. Jefferson Mays is the only actor, the only character onstage. He changes position, mannerism, facial expression, posture, accent, and mood, and one actually forgets that there is only one man standing or sitting there, one man talking. He is Charlotte, Doug Wright, a German talk-show host, a Russian soldier, a Nazi soldier, Charlotte’s aunt, an affected woman, Charlotte’s physically and psychologically abusive father, Charlotte as a child and as a teenager, and dozens of additional characters, some with an American drawl, and some with macho power. Yet, most of the time, Jefferson Mays speaks as Charlotte, the adult, in tightly wound and high-pitched clock-like rhythm, in a focused and engaging, sometimes rigid, fashion. Charlotte curtsies, while the male “characters” swagger.
Charlotte was a very courageous person, standing up to Nazis and Communists, Skinheads and an abusive father, escaping from prison, escaping brutality, and all the while wearing a dress. Her Museum is an amazing array of icons saved from such brutality, as she rescued Jewish records from the Nazis, by temporarily changing the labels. Each record, Charlotte says, sings a story and is so much more important than listening to the news. How true that respected opinion is today, with soothing music the option over the media’s obsession with graphic violence.
Charlotte von Mahlsdorf was and is a hero in the German homosexual community for her bravery and resilience, support and sophistication. Her Museum remains a popular site for visitors of all backgrounds, especially for collectors of early twentieth century antiques. The antiques displayed in Derek McLane’s wall-to-wall, stage-to-floor set are fascinating. There are so many Victrolas and so many clocks. In fact, Act I is named Phonographs, and Act II is named Clocks. During the entertaining monologue of Charlotte’s kinky downstairs Club, the set was lit in a brilliant red, and kudos to David Lander for his powerful and piercing lighting effects.
Enormous kudos are also extended to Moises Kaufman for superb direction of this multi-layered play, so difficult to create for one, solo actor, and to Doug Wright for his ingenuity and sensitivity, tenaciousness and passion. Extraordinary kudos are extended to Jefferson Mays, for his amazing focus and versatility, for his timing and skill, and for this most memorable afternoon at the theatre. The Lyceum Theatre was perfect for this production, with its hand-carved wooden doors, ornamentation, and moldings, elegant chandeliers, and antique ambiance. Run to see I Am My Own Wife, as Jefferson Mays is the energy of this event. Tickets available at www.Telecharge.com/IamMyOwnWife.