THEATER REVIEW: “I Am My Own Wife” @ Hubbard Hall [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Roseann Cane
Born Lothar Berfelde in Berlin-Mahlsdorf, Germany, in 1928, the son of a leader of the Nazi Party, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf recognized early in life that she felt more herself in female clothing. Despite her formidable, abusive father, who forced her to join the Hitler Youth, she would become increasingly more comfortable in her sexual orientation, eventually identifying herself as a transvestite when she learned the word from a sex researcher. That she remained true to herself during the Third Reich, and throughout her life in East Germany, surviving the oppression of both Nazism and Communism, could be seen as testament to her courage. At the same time, von Mahlsdorf was imperfect as any human being, with questionable morals. Her complex character makes her an irresistible subject for a character study.
Playwright Doug Wright first contacted von Mahlsdorf in 1992, proposing that he study her life in order to write a play about her. Wright made a series of trips to Germany, visiting her museum populated by the many artifacts and pieces of antique furniture von Mahlsdorf passionately collected over the decades, then taping conversations between the two. I Am My Own Wife was first presented by Playwrights Horizons in 2002.
In Hubbard Hall’s current production, actor Rylan Morsbach enters Andrea Nice’s dark, burnished, evocatively designed set, clad in a modest black dress with apron, pearls and a headscarf. He addresses the audience in a soft, heavily accented voice; while the German accent was authentic, I found it so thick I had difficulty understanding much of what he said initially. Either I quickly became accustomed to the accent or Morsbach lightened up on it, because I eventually realized that I was understanding every word. Morsbach is a remarkably engaging actor, and his performance is nothing short of astonishing. His embodiment of von Mahlsdorf is complete, as are the many other characters (more than 40, according to several online sources) he becomes, each with a distinctive voice and physical presence.