Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
I Am My Own Wife
Signature's intimate ARK Theatre, with its 125 seats, brings the audience physically close to the performer as he brings to life Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a German transvestite (birth name Lothar Berfelde) whose unlikely life spanned both Nazi rule and the communist dictatorship of East Germany; she lived until 2002, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. Long begins his performance in pants and a white shirt as he portrays the playwright and his friend John Marks, a correspondent for U.S. News and World Report in Germany, but soon he switches to the prim black dress, head scarf and pearls (designed by Kathleen Geldard) that were Charlotte's everyday costume beginning in adolescence.
Charlotte was a collector of furnishings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as gramophones, clocks and hand- and machine-carved furniture, and maintained a private museum in her home, including the furnishings from an authentic cabaret of the Weimar period in her basement. More than that, as Wright says when he meets her: "She doesn't just run a museum; she is one." However, the personal history Charlotte relates to the author isn't necessarily true, as he finds in documents recounting her clouded history with the Stasi, the East German secret police.
Long is best known in the Washington area for his classical roles with the Shakespeare Theatre Company, but he won a Helen Hayes Award for his gripping portrayal of a murderer in Frozen at the Studio Theatre. This play gives him the rare opportunity to shape-shift, changing his posture and the tilt of his head as he creates one character sketch after another in the space of less than two hours.
Wilson Chin's scenic design, while elegant, actually could use a bit more clutter to be fully effective.