Charlotte von Mahlsdorf was clearly ahead of her time. As a trans Jewish woman who was witness to the horrors of Nazi Germany, she survived by living her true self, embracing her own reality and proving, in the end, that truth truly is stranger than fiction. Charlotte’s amazing story is the basis of playwright Doug Wright’s acclaimed 2003 one-man play, “I Am My Own Wife”, which is based on actual conversations Wright had with von Mahlsdorf. The play went on to win the Tony Award for “Best Play” as well as the Pulitzer Prize. It is currently in a rare revival at Long Wharf Theatre.
Needless to say, any production of “I Am My Own Wife” rises or falls on the strength of its leading player (Jefferson Mays was its original Tony Award-winning star.) Trans actor Mason Alexander Park (who prefers the pronouns they/them) is a vivid presence at Long Wharf but rarely seems to connect directly with the audience. Part of the issue is the choice of accent they uses for Charlotte which is so thick and, at times, incomprehensible, that large parts of the dialogue simply go missing. I confess to not hearing at least 50% of the dialogue in act one completely losing some crucial information about the demise of Charlotte’s father. Park has, apparently, also been directed (by Rebecca Martinez) to be so passive and unemotional, that the passion of her tale rarely surfaces in what is a very emotional story. I remained unmoved throughout.
Britton Mauk’s elaborate set design, which represents the interior of Charlotte’s museum and includes some magnificent Morning Glory Horns, seems more than is needed and often proves a distraction. Daniel Tyler Mathews’ costuming, Jennifer Fox’s lighting and especially the sound design and original music by Kimberly S. O’Loughlin and Liam Bellman-Sharpe, however, are all excellent. Following on the heels of Hartford Stage’s superb one-woman drama, “Pike Street”, though, doesn’t help the dreary tedium that is Long Wharf’s “I Am My Own Wife”.
“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.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor and resident critic of WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.