Theater Review: “I Am My Own Wife"

Theater Review: “I Am My Own Wife" | San Diego Gay and Lesbian News
By Jean Lowerison

“She doesn’t run a museum. She is one. And I’m curating her,” says playwright Doug Wright in describing the subject of his one-man show “I Am My Own Wife.”

He’s talking about the real-life Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, born Lothar Berfelde in 1928, who at a very young age felt like a girl trapped in a boy’s body. Lothar took to wearing dresses, adopted the name Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, and became one of the most celebrated of European transvestites, managing to survive both Nazi and Communist regimes.

Jenny Sullivan directs John Tufts as Charlotte through Jan. 28 at Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach.

Charlotte enters through the rear doors in all black: a long black jumper speckled with white, a long-sleeved tee underneath, a kerchief and sensible walking shoes. And all is offset by a lovely double strand of pearls.

As a teen, she became fascinated with furniture and other artifacts of the 19th-century German empire period and began to collect what items she could when she assisted a second-hand goods dealer who was cleaning out the homes of deported Jews.

At 16, Charlotte bludgeoned her abusive Nazi father to death with a rolling pin after he threatened to kill her and the rest of the family. After a few weeks in a psychiatric hospital, she was sentenced to four years in juvenile detention, but was released soon after when the war ended and prisoners were released.

Now we meet her in the Gründerzeit Museum, which she opened in her Berlin home in 1960, featuring the carefully saved furniture and artifacts. She even preserved a famous Berlin gay bar in her basement, which became a meeting place for the homosexual community. 

Wright describes this as a “one-woman show performed by a man.” Yes indeed, but that’s not all: the insanely talented Tufts plays some 35 characters in the course of telling Charlotte’s story, from a “U.S. News and World Report” correspondent to Charlotte’s Aunt Luise who “should have been a man” to a Stasi agent, and changes identities on a dime in this riveting two-act monologue.

Bravo to set designer Keith Mitchell for the museum of hanging artifacts and to props designer Warren Casey, who stocked tables and other furniture with period-look pieces. Lighting and sound are nicely handled by Pablo Santiago and Christopher Moscatiello.

Charlotte was more than an interesting character – she was an example of courage in the face of extreme danger. The last scene tells it all, but I’ll leave you to discover why.

“I Am My Own Wife” won both the Tony and Pulitzer as the best play of 2004.  Don’t miss this wonderfully touching and amusing human story.