I Am My Own Wife, onstage now at Theatre Raleigh under the direction of Jesse Gephart, tells the fascinating true story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, at least as much of it as can be told. Charlotte is a person without clear definition, clear allegiances, or an entirely clear story. Yet, viewers get to know her- or at least the image she presented to others- very well in this one-person play starring David Henderson.
The curtains open on a purposefully cluttered set, one that is jam-packed with the treasures Charlotte has proudly collected throughout her intriguing life. However, viewers quickly discover that it is Charlotte herself who is the greatest treasure here.
Charlotte, who grew up in the 30s, was born a male but identified as a female from a young age. And, while many have lauded her as a hero, there have been statements and doings in her past that have cast doubt on whether or not she deserves this status. All of this and then some is explored in Doug Wright’s rich script, though no judgments are cast, which is part of the beauty of the work.
Also beautiful here is Henderson’s amazing portrayal of not just Charlotte herself, but of 33 other characters, including the play’s southern-accented author, who conducted a number of interviews with Charlotte before her death.
While all of Henderson’s portrayals are effective, his greatest strength is when he is performing as Charlotte herself. Henderson embodies the character fully, down to every nuance, and adds in all the mystery and non-commitance that make her such a questionable and intriguing figure.
Strong lighting effects from Andrew Parks highlight the show’s most intense and dramatic moments. Each moment or piece of the play is also nicely moved along and centered by projections of the scene titles on the walls.
Everything here is so beautifully done that it takes some time away, without the distraction of the artistry, to ponder the play’s many messages. It is a work that brings into question what qualifies one as a “hero” or “idol” and even about what it says for a people to be so disenfranchised that they must scramble to find heroes wherever and however they can.
Thoughtful, provocative, and aesthetically beautiful, this is an important and still-relevant work that demands to be seen.
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