Since 2011 Smyra Yawn has worked as a stage manager, production manager, business manager and teacher in Chicago. She enjoys also coffee and gardening.
(l- r) Delia Kropp and Scott Duff. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Review: I AM MY OWN WIFE at About Face Theatre
By Smyra Yawn
Every play I’ve seen since November 8th has seemed like a small rebellion. I crowd into small dark rooms with strangers to see something beautiful and hope that it will steel me, change me into someone better equipped for the world outside. About Face Theatre’s production of I AM MY OWN WIFE crystallized this feeling for me.
Doug Wright’s play, originally a one-man show, tells the story of Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf, a self-identified transvestite who survived both the Nazi and Communist regimes in Germany. She also curated an elaborate museum in her home in Germany—everyday objects like furniture and records that became precious when they were banned or destroyed under violent regimes. She invites people in, gives tours, and recites the history of these items as well as her life. The play recalls Wright’s introduction to Charlotte in 1989 and his endeavor to write a play about her life. But when the authenticity of some of Charlotte’s claims come into question, Wright, a gay man from the American South, struggles not only to salvage his project but grapples with the idea that the person he’s come to revere as a queer hero might be a fraud.
The play recalls Wright’s introduction to Charlotte in 1989 and his endeavor to write a play about her life. But when the authenticity of some of Charlotte’s claims come into question, Wright, a gay man from the American South, struggles not only to salvage his project but grapples with the idea that the person he’s come to revere as a queer hero might be a fraud.
Having seen a production of the one-man show (if you’ll pardon the incongruous phrase) a few years ago, I have to say that I loved the casting and the staging of this production with four actors. Delia Kropp is magnificent as Charlotte. For Kropp to play alongside actor Scott Duff as Wright allows for a joyful interplay that just isn’t possible with one actor. The audience watches the playwright become enamored with this mysterious and impossible person. Charlotte, in turn, is delighted by the attention and opportunity to share the items and stories from her past which she has so carefully curated.
Charlotte gives a number of performances—recitations of speeches about an antique Victrola or a particularly harrowing event involving the Stasi police. The audience must wonder: is this measured delivery simply part of her nature as a docent of her own history? Or is there something false in the story? Kropp does a beautiful job toeing the line and keeping us wondering. Ninos Baba and Matt Holzfeind deliver strong supporting performances that make the show a tightly woven ensemble piece. Brian Prather’s set is a gorgeous backdrop for the action and Sarah Espinoza’s sound design weaves in and out of the story beautifully.
The script itself seems different for me this time around and not just because of the expanded casting. Doug Wright struggled with Charlotte’s complicated past. Early on, he tells Charlotte, “You are teaching me a history I never knew I had.” Later, he has trouble reconciling any amount of deception in a person so brave and beautiful. Charlotte isn’t a symbol; she’s a person—complicated and at times disappointing. I happened to see this play on Transgender Day of Remembrance. Already, since the play’s original production, the conversation around transgender and genderqueer identity has changed radically. It has made me, as I hope others, reflect more carefully on the things I think I understand.
I AM MY OWN WIFE runs through Dec 10th at Theatre Wit. For more information or to purchase tickets visit aboutfacetheatre.