Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I Am My Own Wife

I went to a show about a senior citizen transvestite with my homophobic friend. This was probably not the wisest idea. In the lobby, the ushers handed us complimentary strands of pearls. Steve was confused; I was intrigued.

“I Am My Own Wife” has quite a reputation to uphold, as winner of awards and critical acclaim all around the world. And it doesn’t disappoint. Jefferson Mays is unreal, more a testament to a life than a simple character. Even upon his initial entrance, his acting is ferocious. I could feel his spit and sweat landing on me throughout the show. Mays has created a detailed representation of this life, while giving form to time and place. It is a one-man-show of heightened proportions, as he pushes through transitions one after another, weaving each thread of the stories together. It is no wonder he has an incredible dexterity, however, Mays has been starring in this production since 2003, winning the Tony Award for his Broadway performances. His commitment to Charlotte van Mahlsdorf, the central figure of the play, allows her to transcend her own story, and leads this account into something much bigger.

In the world of her museum, created with scrupulous detail behind her, Charlotte reveals herself as the valuable artifact. Her life, as playwright Doug Wright discovered in their interviews, is an unbelievable account of history and humanism. Her life bridges the gap between World War II and the Cold War, and beyond; not only does she survive transvestitism in the time of the Nazi’s, she lives through the constantly changing political, social, and personal conflict of East Germany into modern day. Wright’s own journey to find the truth of Charlotte’s existence, looking past her carefully measured stories, gives us an intimate account of an uncommon woman in uncommon circumstances.

More than a retelling of chronological events, “I Am My Own Wife” explores the notions of truth in the context of one life. Like her collections of imperfect and aged furniture, Charlotte’s life is a tale in itself, preserved and explored here, despite the flaws and cracks we might find. It’s less about being gay or transvestite than it is about simply being a person in this world. My friend Steve, thank God, could see that.

“I Am My Own Wife” continues through February 4, 2006 at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London.


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