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A CurtainUp Review
I Am My Own Wife
The phenomenal I Am My Own Wife (Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner) is playing at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia, with a major twist. Although re-imagined, the original script has been retained, so the basic narrative line will not be dealt with here. The story of the play is covered in Curtain Up reviews of its run at Playwrights Horizons and on Broadway. (I Am My Own Wife Off and On-Broadway Review)
The playwright has a history working with Blanka Zizka, the Wilma's Artistic Director, and because he trusts her instincts, Doug Wright okayed a major alteration in his play. She could experiment and include a second actor. The two-character version, however, gains pragmatism at the expense of both subtlety and power.
Actually there are two major changes in this production. The first change is the assigning of the roles to two actors. Floyd King is Charlotte von Mahlsdorf and all the denizens of her story. Kevin Bergen plays the playwright and all persons not in von Mahlsdorf's immediate sphere. Together they handle the 35 characters with energy and style.
The two-character choice evidently was intended to open the work up to exploration and allow character interaction. But, like adding more parts water to a concentrate, it dilutes. There is not a great deal of direct interaction between Charlotte and Doug Wright in any case, for the play is about far more than their interaction. As a result of focusing on their relationship, the benefits of seeing Charlotte filtered through a single sensibility are lost. The second and equally important change is the director's controlling vision, a certainty that pervades this telling of the story, that under the circumstances, Charlotte did what she had to do to survive. This stance removes much of the fascinating ambivalence that originally cloaked the character.
Almost all of the original script has been retained. Just a few lines were edited. The lighting is interesting, and there are beautiful, though gratuitous projections. The performance takes place on two spatial planes -a room in the house, raised, and a lower perimeter. The reasoning behind this use of space is understandable, but the results are non-dramatic.
Although I had intended to review the production purely on its own merits, it was impossible not to recall the Jefferson Mays/ Moises Kaufman original -- the utter precision, the glimpses of Charlotte's facets, like a sapphire turning in the light. That lady in pearls packed a punch. Less deliciously naughty and contradictory, this Charlotte von Mahlsdorf is lively, humorous, and matter-of-fact -- more sanitized than elusive. The vindication of Charlotte inherent in the production's view ultimately nullifies the play's intrinsic ambiguity. Despite evident fine intentions and good moments, I reluctantly conclude that the play should not have been taken in this direction.
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Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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