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A CurtainUp Review
I Am My Own Wife
By David Lohrey
With such incendiary material, this 2003-04 season Pulitzer Prize winner can easily be mistaken for a play about obvious hot button topics such as homosexuality, the Nazis and Cold War spying. Certainly these are themes that run through it and are undoubtedly the sort of topics that drew the playwright back to Berlin to research his subject. But, as the actor (Mark Nelson) playing the playwright (Doug Wright) explains in the play's opening lines, this play is, finally, about curiosity itself.
I Am My Own Wife takes as its subject the process of exploring and excavating the truth, and leaves conclusions to those who need them. Here the playwright continues an interest in the odd combination of the bizarre and the heroic that began with Quills, his fascinating play about de Sade. Like Quills, there is no final message, as far as I can see — just the endlessly fascinating mystery of human life. Much is made, for example, of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf's role in East German spying during the post-war years, and indeed she may have been guilty of sending another man to prison, but in the end the playwright admits that he and we will never know what really happened. This doesn't let Charlotte off the hook. It's just the way things are.
Mark Nelson plays numerous roles in addition to the playwright and the German transvestite known as Charlotte. He gives a tour de force performance that he has brought to New Jersey, after playing in Cleveland and elsewhere. An astonishingly versatile performer, Nelson is able to handle playwright Wright's " bible belt" Southern accent as well as that of the numerous other characters, both male and female and of different nationalities. His rendition of an American soldier is particularly well done, both in accent and gesture.
The actor is clearly at home with the material and makes the role created by Jefferson Mays his own. He moves with ease, bridging gender and generation gaps with virtuoso skill. He takes advantage of George Street Playhouse's small thrust stage, and really "works" the audience which at the matinee I attended was a hard sell — but by curtain time he had them standing on their feet.
Nelson and director Anders Cato have worked together before and it shows. Cato's superb direction abets the performance and goes a long way toward convincing one that being gay takes on a whole new set of meanings placed against war torn Germany and Communist occupied Berlin. . and The entire project deserves praise. Howell Binkley has lit Hugh Landwehr wonderful scenic design alternating between menacing or bright as called for. The sound design by Swonger is haunting and appropriate. Especially noteworthy are the numerous props, including the furniture in miniature, no doubt the responsibility of the very able Landwehr. The toys, though, would be hardly worth our attention were it not for the playwright's very convincing case that the life of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf was worth telling.
Editor's Note: Even more than Quills, which has had numerous productions, I Am My Own Wife's cache as a Pulitzer Prize winner guarantee it many more productions world-wide. CurtainUp has already reported on several of these, including the premiere at Playwrights Horizon, and one not too successful attempt to do it with two actors. Links to these productions as well as one of Quills are included below:
I Am My Own Wife (off-Broadway, Broadway, London)
I Am My Own Wife (2 actor version--Philadelphia)
I Am My Own Wife (Los Angeles)
Quills (Berkshire Theatre Festival)
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide