Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

I Am My Own Wife
Theatre Raleigh
Review by Garrett Southerland


David Henderson
Photo by Jennifer Griffin Robertson
There was a time in the young life of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf when her mother asked her "Don't you think it is time to settle down and find a wife?," to which she replied, "But, Mutti, don't you know that I am my own wife?" Charlotte, born Lothar Berfelde (male), identified and presented as female from a very young age. Somehow, she survived not only the dangerous Nazi regime in Germany but also the fascist Communist government that followed, and this intriguing person is the true-life subject of the Pulitzer and Tony-winning play I Am My Own Wife by Doug Wright, currently in production by Theatre Raleigh at the Kennedy Theatre through July 21.

The one-man play (which began at About Face Theatre in Chicago in 2002, premiered in 2003 Off-Broadway, and opened on Broadway in 2004) is based on Mr. Wright's conversations and interviews with Mahlsforf as well as her autobiography. It introduces us to Charlotte and walks us through many chapters of her life, always returning to the highly regarded museum of late 19th century antiquities she kept for decades in Berlin (beautifully evoked here by designers Chris Bernier and Tim Domack). Along the way, she is branded as everything from survivor to cultural icon to traitor, and in spite of almost impossible odds, she becomes a sort of patron saint to the LGBT community there.

Under the artful direction of Jesse Gephart, David Henderson gives a truly riveting performance as Charlotte, creating an intriguing blend of masculine and feminine. Additionally, Mr. Henderson is not only his own wife but the entire cast—embodying Ms. Mahlsdorf and all of the play's more than 30 other characters, one of whom is the playwright himself. As the line between playwright and character blurs, Mr. Wright weaves Mahlsdorf's intriguing biography into his own, and he struggles to make sense of her story of survival, striving to separate truth from fiction.

Sound design by Eric Alexander offers snapshots of sound to underscore a number of Mahlsdorf's memories. And Andrew Parks' lighting design subtly and sometimes dramatically shifts us through time, space and mood. But by the end of the play, we are left with as many questions as answers. Of all the things Charlotte has told Mr. Wright (and us), what should we believe? How much does it matter that we can't really know? Today we are growing more and more accepting of the idea that one's perceptions and experience can differ markedly from someone else's. I Am My Own Wife challenges us to enter that realm of ambiguity and at its heart is the concept of truth itself, and how each of us creates truth for ourselves.

I Am My Own Wife, through July 21, 2019, at Theatre Raleigh, Kennedy Theatre, Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, 2 East South St., Raleigh NC. For tickets and information, visit www.theatreraleigh.com or call 919-832-9997.

Playwright: Doug Wright
Direction: Jesse Gephart
Scenic Design: Chris Bernier
Sound Design: Eric Alexander Collins
Lighting Design: Andrew Parks
Costume Design: Stephanie Cluggish
Property Design: Tim Domack

Cast:br> Charlotte von Mahlsdorf: David Henderson


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