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I Am My Own Wife

a Drama
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by Doug Wright

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 1667

SHOWING : January 25, 2007 - March 03, 2007

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

36 diverse characters in this one-man play create a vivid portrait of the cunning and outrageous Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, an openly gay German transvestite and collector of culture who survived and flourished within the harrowing eras of Hitler's Gestapo and East Germany's Stasi. Based on personal interviews with von Mahlsdorf, Doug Wright's Pulitzer and Tony-winning play tells a complex tale about tyrrany, sexuality, morality, and survival.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Freddie Ashley
Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, et. al, Doyle Reynolds
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REVIEWS

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Survivor Song
by Dedalus
Monday, February 5, 2007
4.0
This month, Actor’s Express is producing two one-person shows in repertory, each of which, in some way, celebrates the ambivalencies of living life on your own terms, sharing the joys without ignoring the trials. Both plays spotlight the talents of their stars in tour-de-force performances that make (or should make) most of us blush at how feeble our own attempts have been – they raise the bar on what we, as actors, should hope to achieve. And yet, the plays are as different as chalk and cheese. I’ll discuss “THOM PAIN (Based on Nothing)” in a separate column – here, let me focus on Doug Wright’s Pulitzer- and Tony-Winning play “I Am My Own Wife.”

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Western observers made the acquaintance of a remarkable woman. Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf was the proprietor of an East Berlin Museum of knick-knacks and antiques, a veritable treasure trove of German 20th-Century artisanship. More remarkable, however, was that Charlotte was born a man, and managed to maintain her identity as a transvestite through both the Nazi regime and the post-war Communist regime.

In 1993, playwright Wright (“Quills”) traveled to Berlin to interview Madame Von Mahlsdorf. He then used the resulting tapes to construct a play in which one actor plays himself, Charlotte, and a periphery of other characters, all in the service of telling this woman’s remarkable story.

Here, Dad’s Garage mainstay Doyle Reynolds shows us a cast of distinct and recognizable characters, centered on a soft-spokenly gentle Charlotte and a more eager (almost fawning) Wright. He is able to shift from character to character with a shift of posture, a change of head angle, a refinement of dialect. But this performance is more than a showcase for his “actor’s bag of tricks” – both central characters (and most of the supporting characters) have full inner lives – I never got the sense Mr. Reynolds built these characterizations form the “outside in.” He gave every appearance being in each and every moment first, with all the “craft” stuff added later as polish.

More than being an actor’s showcase, though, this play was remarkable in its ambivalencies toward its subject. Mr. Wright does not hide Charlotte’s flaws – she was obsessive, she was a parricide, she was even a spy for the Russian Secret Police (maybe). She had a contagious joy in telling stories (true or not) and relating incidents from her life (true or not). She had an unshakable love for antiques and all the other paraphernalia of her life. She had an infinite capacity to rationalize and justify her actions. And she was fanatically and resolutely her own person (an ironic corollary to the play’s title).

It’s easy to understand playwright Wright’s devotion to this subject – her life provided not only affirmation of his own identity as a gay artist, but also showed the lengths to which a strong person can be driven to act in order to protect that identity. If he shows his own character to be a bit shallow and fawning – well, to do otherwise would have muddied the focus of the piece.

Speaking of muddy focus, I’m of two minds as to whether the ambiguities in the factualness (I won’t say “truthiness”) of Charlotte’s stories works or not. Initially, I thought that ambiguity hurt the play, that Charlotte would have been a more concrete character if Wright had passed some sort of judgment on her stories. But, in retrospect, leaving the ambiguities intact may have served Charlotte better. She wanted to be taken on her own terms – one of those terms being her life as constructed through her stories. The accuracy of those stories is, in the final analysis, irrelevant.

In any case, whether you believe Charlotte or not, you will certainly believe Doyle Reynolds and his roster of performances. I left the play believing it would be a long time before I saw a performance of his equal. The fact that I only had to wait a half hour, I’ll discuss tomorrow when I write about “THOM PAIN (Based on Nothing).”

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)
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Go See This Play... by Outsider
I saw it on Broadway and am happy to say that the AE production doesn't disappoint in the least. Doyle Reynolds is simply magnificent!


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