Saturday, February 22, 2020

Review of "I Am My Own Wife"

I had high expectations for the one-man show, I Am My Own Wife, receiving an unfulfilling production at Long Wharf Theatre.  The play won the 2004 Tony Award for Best Play, the star, Jefferson Mays, was honored with the Tony for Best Actor that year, and it was also selected for the Pulitzer Prize in drama.  Playwright Douglas Wright’s work can be captivating and at times riveting.  It is uniquely structured, part historical play, part investigative reporting with Wright in the middle of the drama, inserting himself, through dialogue and audio tape recordings.  But the overall presentation is ineffectual, minimizing the power innate in the narrative.

The story of I Am My Own Wife is fascinating and multi-faceted. Wright read of 65-year-old transgender, Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf (Mason Alexander Park), who had survived the Nazi rule in Germany and the subsequent Communist regime in East Germany.  Intrigued, the playwright contacted her, seeking to write a play about the life she led.  The work that was crafted is part mystery, survival story, and morality play.   We follow Charlotte, who operated a museum filled with fine, antique furniture and a sumptuous collection of timeworn phonographs, gramophones, Victrolas, and other vintage playing devices, from her early years through the latter part of her life.  As the story progresses, disturbing questions come to light that seed doubt on the truth and veracity of the narrative.

The strength of any production of I Am My Own Wife rests on the actor playing the lead role.  Mason Alexander Park gives a fully-realized, convincing, but muted performance, portraying 40 individuals during the show.  Some of the characterizations are brief, others more extensive.  Sometimes the actor’s German accent is hard to understand and, therefore, the action that follows. 

While Director Rebecca Martinez skillfully guides the quick-change transitions with the multitude of characters, the production can be meandering and sometimes confusing, especially in Act I.   The engagement between actor and audience is less absorbing.  It is not until Act II that the story becomes more engrossing and the show’s appeal increases significantly.

Britton Mauk’s Scenic Design centers on numerous, oversized gramophone horns emanating above the stage.  They serve as an obvious reminder of Charlotte and her friend’s unusual collection, but could also be seen as a metaphor for listening devices utilized by the Stassi, the East German secret police that are a significance presence in this, at times, enthralling tale.

I Am My Own Wife, playing at the Long Wharf Theatre through March 1.  Information is at

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