I Am My Own Wife – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

Jacob Padron, the new Artistic Director of Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, wants to engage the community in a theater that belongs to the people, forming a family, breaking down barriers, creating an artistic home. To that end, he is welcoming a unique one person play to the stage “I Am My Own Wife” written by Doug Wright, a Tony and Pulitzer Award -winning playwright. A necklace of pearls is de rigueur, in the style of Barbara Bush,and it is clear the pearls are a symbolic contnection with the star of the current show offering.

Until Sunday, March 1, this intimate and revealing story will unveil the life of Lothar Berfelde who chose to live his existence as Charlotte von Mahlsdorf in East Germany during two of the most difficult times in history, the Nazi and the Communist regimes. Early on, Lothar discovered that he needed to dress and act as a woman and he did so without compromise.

Along the way, she became a great collector of phonographs, clocks, music boxes and furniture, so much so that she turned her large home into a museum that she opened to the public, giving tours as Charlotte for a small donation. When she was introduced to the playwright, Wright was impressed by Charlotte’s survival and wanted to write a play and study her life. This memorable opportunity consisted of a series of interviews. Once they were completed, Wright spent years with writer’s block, unable to put all the aspects of Charlotte’s life into a complex framework. Charlotte described herself as having piercing eyes, a crooked smile, a pageboy white hairdo, with the hands of a woodworker. She bravely defied the restrictions of the day, for example by playing the music of Jewish composers. When her actions were questioned by the police, she was stripped of her previous honors and accused of being a spy. Eventually she was forced to leave Germany and resettled in Sweden.

Over the years, she also met a large number of unusual people whom actor Mason Alexander Park admirably conveys in snippets and anecdotes throughout the two plus hours of the play. People like the playwright Wright and his friend John Marks who introduced him to Charlotte, the antique dealer Alfred Kirschner, the Stasi police, Nazis and a favored aunt Tante Luise are among the almost forty different personalities she portrays in awesome ways, flawlessly and completely.

This true and fascinatingly bizarre story is directed by Rebecca Martinez, with a dramatic set of phonograph horns that look like flowers designed by Britton Maur, sound and original music by Kimberly S. O’Loughlin and impressionable lighting by Jennifer Fox..

For tickets ($32 and up), call the Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharftheatre.org. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Sunday at 2 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 p.m.

Literally sneak a peek under the skirts of a man who lived his life as a woman and possibly was a murderer, an informant or a spy along the way.