Saturday, April 14, 2012

Man Survives Nazis and Stasi Dressed as a Woman

Brandon Demery Curtain Call

[The Nitty Gritty:  Yes the title was meant to get your attention, but it's also accurate.  "I Am My Own Wife" is one more truly amazing performance at Out North.  A Pulitzer and Tony winning play about a most unusual character, performed so extremely well, by Juneau actor  Brandon Demery.

Two more shows Saturday (today) at 3pm and 8pm.

This is one of those true gems that we in Anchorage get to see intimately in Out North's tiny theater.  The blurbs written about the play simply do not give a sense at all of what this is really about, and it's so good you shouldn't spoil it by reading the in depth reviews in advance.   You can stop reading now and just go and see this while you can.  But if you're not convinced, read on.]

This really should have played every night for the week before the Prop. 5 election.  It's one more story about a man's body holding a woman inside.  From Peter Hinton's study guide for the play:
“In an age where politicians still routinely decry homosexuality on the evening news and “fag” remains the most stinging of all playground epithets, Charlotte’s dogged insistence on her own sexuality could prove downright curative, an antidote for a community too often besieged by public condemnation and internalized self-loathing. She was a bona fide gay hero.”**

From New York Times theater reviewer, Bruce Weber,  almost ten years ago, about this play in New York,
. . . the producers of ''I Am My Own Wife'' have done theatergoers a service by giving the play a chance to be more widely seen. And it has, in fact, broader appeal than a mere description would have you believe. It is not an esoteric work, and it isn't especially kinky.
It does, however, tell a terrific story based on a real person, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (née Lothar Berfelde), a soft-spoken but tenaciously gender-bending biological male who died in 2002 at 74. Her lifelong obsession -- Mahlsdorf preferred to be thought of as female -- was the preservation of furniture, especially pieces from the 1890's, and other household relics like Victrolas and gramophones.
The playwright is one of the main characters in the play, a resolution to the dilemma of having conflicting information about his main character - is she a hero or not? - and not knowing which version was true or how to resolve the conflicts in a person he saw as a hero.

 From the study guide about the drama:

"An exchange with a colleague at a writers’ retreat in 2000 gave Wright insight into an approach to Charlotte’s story that freed him to proceed with it: “For the first time, the play’s structure dawned on me. It wouldn’t be a straightforwsard biographical drama; it would chart my own relationship with my heroine. I would even appear as a character, a kind of detective searching for Charlotte’s true self” (Wright, p. xv.). By making his own process of discovery just as much a part of the drama as the events in the life of his enigmatic subject, Wright highlights the notion that the meaning of an individual life -- in truth as well as in fiction -- depends on who’s telling the story. No collection of stories, no matter how exhaustive it may appear, is ever enough to capture the elusive essence of individual identity; hence the provisional element in the play’s subtitle -- not “The Life of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf” but Studies for a Play About the Life of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf."
And while there were a number of characters - the Irish Film Magazine says 44 (some had very short parts) - there was only one actor playing them all.  There were a few words here and there that slipped out of his mouth that had to be retrieved quickly before proceeding, but that really didn't detract from the power of the performance.
Stage table with props

Need I say it again?  Go see this.  Take your neighbor who voted no last week.  

An additional note.  The student guide has a German vocabulary list for the play.  There is German spoken, but mostly it's translated in the play.  But there is one bit of German not on the list - probably because it was said in English.  Charlotte says something like, "I became the furniture"  "I became . . . "  In German, bekommen, means "to get."  I'm assuming the playwright was indulging in a bit of bi-lingual word play here, because the character both 'gets' these objects and in a way 'becomes' them as well. 

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