I Am My Own Wife – Review by Brooks Appelbaum

Long Wharf Theatre is currently presenting a mesmerizing revival of Doug Wright’s brilliant one-person play, “I Am My Own Wife.” Though the original 2003 Broadway production won a Tony Award for Best Play and a Pulitzer Prize, revivals are rare, undoubtedly because the script demands so much from the single actor who plays the historically real Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, as well as over twenty other characters. In Mason Alexander Park, director Rebecca Martinez has found an actor of astonishing range, sensitivity, and charisma who creates a Charlotte as we’ve not seen her before.

Born in Berlin in 1928, Lothar Berfelde always knew, as his Tante Luise put it, that “you should have been born a girl.” As an adult, Lothar re-named herself Charlotte and lived her true female identity. A passionate collector of furniture and household items, she created the Gründerzeit Museum, which also served, for a time, as a secret center for gay life. Remarkably, Charlotte survived both the Nazi regime and the tyranny of the Communists.

“I Am My Own Wife” depicts Doug Wright’s friendship with Charlotte as he researches what he hopes will be a play worthy of such a figure. The play also presents Charlotte’s dramatic accounts of her adventures and challenges Wright to face his need to believe in her possibly inaccurate tales.

Park and director Martinez, notably with the playwright’s blessing, have created a production that combines the melancholic elements of the memory play with powerful, funny, and terrifying set pieces that jolt us into the action of Charlotte’s stories. However, this version of “I Am My Own Wife” focuses more on Charlotte, and on her mysterious interior life, than on the tour de force required of the actor. Park’s performance is certainly a tour de force, with every other character brilliantly defined. But we are most fascinated and moved by Charlotte herself, her limpid eyes often looking inward towards memories that are tightly held, and perhaps more saddening and scarring, than those that she presents to her listeners.

The set design, by Britton Mauk, surrounds Charlotte’s museum doors with enormous, colorful morning glories that double as the horns of her beloved gramophones: in a sense, they embrace her in safety. Otherwise, the set is spare, allowing Charlotte—and Park—to create for us each item in the museum and each object necessary to make a scene spring to life.

Daniel Tyler Mathew’s costumes enable us to see Charlotte’s love of color and pattern—those red heels! That red coat!—as well as with her modestly flowered apron. Most movingly, we see the moment in which, transformed by girl’s clothing, she recognizes her female self.

The lighting, by Jennifer Fok, is worth watching for, as Fok creates specific locations with elegant designs. Kimberly S. O’Loughlin and Liam Bellman-Sharpe have combined sound and original music that beautifully transform the mood and transport us into Charlotte’s world.

I very rarely wish to see a production more than once, but this one would yield more insights and nuances upon a second viewing. Park, especially, provides a balance of magnetism and mystery that invites us further and further into Charlotte’s world, without
—and here’s the performer’s secret—revealing everything.

“I Am My Own Wife” continues at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven through
March 1. For ticket reservations or further information call: 203.787.4282 or visit:
www.longwharf.org

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