Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
I Am My Own Wife
Born in 1928, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf was a transgender woman who lived in Berlin and was quite passionate about collecting furnishings and objects from the late nineteenth century. (These included gramophones, and set designer Britton Mauk includes many large, expressionistic horn-like gramophone pieces which face the audience. The horns look like expanded, constructed flowers.) Doug Wright connected with Charlotte during the 1990s when she was in her sixties. He went to Germany to interview her and gleaned, through her memory, reactions to the most trying of circumstances. Wright became astonished by this woman's zeal, awareness and charisma. Her driving purpose was to liveat any cost. Audacious and undeterred, she would eventually move to Sweden and then return to Germany before her death from a heart attack. I Am My Own Wife is Charlotte's story, told through Wrights eyes.
We see that Charlotte can be tender, caring, contemplative but also hot-tempered at times. During the Gestapo siege she was fittingly edgy and also cagy. She used guile to elude the East German police (Stasi) as well as communists who pursued her. She lived through the construction of the Berlin wall as well as the period (culminating in 1990) when it finally came down. Given the trajectory of Charlotte's existence, one might think that only a serious script would result. Wright, however, injects moments of delightful comedy. For example, the woman knew well that her derriere was quite appealing. Wright's dialogue gives this a mention.
Through Rebecca Martinez' proactive and specific direction, Mason Alexander Park is a youthful revelation as Charlotte. The actor is light, graceful and, at once, dynamic on his feet. He takes on a variety of vocal accents to portray mean-spirited individuals but also people in Charlotte's family and her close friends, such as Alfred Kirschner, with whom she communicates while he is jailed. He easily moves from one outfit to the next, provided by costumer Daniel Tyler Mathews. Park is often active and so the production feels breezy and vital.
I Am My Own Wife is a two-hour play, not a monologue. It requires an actor able to transport viewers with him. Charlotte's was an adventurous life; her singularity was stunning. Mason Alexander Park, his own long hair dyed gray, sits inside the woman. It's possible, at times, to forget that we are not seeing the actual Charlotte, such is Park's adhesion to the character.
A night with I Am My Own Wife at Long Wharf is educational and exhilarating. Mason Alexander Park, lyrical and stirring, shapes Charlotte's magnetic character and the evening.
I Am My Own Wife runs through March 1, 2020, at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven CT. For tickets and information, call 203-787-4282 or visit longwharf.org.