The Wilma Theater begins its 2005-2006 season with I Am My Own Wife, a true story about an East German transvestite who survived a brutal father, the Nazi and Stasi regimes and the scrutiny of her past. Doug Wright’s Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning play promises all the drama, scandal and social commentary Philadelphia theatergoers have come to expect of the Wilma. Compelling and provocative, Wife examines the life of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf through a series of interviews conducted by playwright Doug Wright over the course of a decade.
Wright was introduced to Mahlsdorf by a friend following the collapse of the Berlin Wall. She had become a German national intrigue for her escapades housed in the furniture museum where she was curator and her secret involvement with the Stasi police. Wright sifted through pages of transcripts and historical documents, struggling to discover an avenue to tell her story. He eventually realized Mahlsdorf represented a host of histories and it was their relationship that was the core of the story.
He had grown to admire her conviction and courage in light of his own experiences as a gay man fashioning an identity for himself. Wright became disillusioned as inconsistencies in Mahlsdorf’s story surfaced, but soon realized we are all contradictory in nature and in the face of adversity we are willing to commit morally questionable acts to survive. Wright chose to include himself as a central character in an attempt to extract fact from fiction in her narratives and find the trust that had been forged between them.
Unique to the Wilma’s production, two actors will be taking on the roster of roles tackled solely by Jefferson Mays in his Tony Award-winning performance. In the press release for Wife, Director Blanca Ziska said she was driven to cast two actors in order to more aptly portray the relationship between the seeker of the truth, Wright and Mahlsdorf as guardian of a myth. Floyd King, as the latter, delivers an intimate performance worthy of the standing ovation he received opening night.
His gestures were painstakingly deliberate and his movements were mesmerizing. As Wright and members of the persistent press, Kevin Bergen offers an honest glimpse into Wright’s frame of reference and helped form a fine line between drama and parody. Yet, the chemistry between them apparent on the page never truly translated to the stage.
There was a deliberate distance between the actors in Wife’s staging, allowing for the passage of time and Wright’s independent soliloquies while keeping Charlotte as his subject alone on the stage. The stage was as naked as the character herself – bare, except for an expertly placed phonograph, wooden box of miniatures and a door that opened and shut with resolve. Other pieces of lighting and experimental media emerge throughout the play, effectively dictating time, place and mood.
The Wilma’s production combines inspired acting, innovative design and an incomparable tale of a heroine unlike any taken to the boards before. It seems the Wilma continually strives to produce work that encourages a social dialogue. Wife is a fine example, not only in its examination of a political system that tries to suppress individuality but also how history becomes only what we make of it.
Special discounts are available for students. Call the box office for ticket reservations.
Brooke Honeyford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.