Rating: 5 / 5
The remarkable true story of a German transvestite who lived under Nazi and Communist regime.
St Andrews based production company ‘A Certain Crowd’ brought Doug Wright’s complex and beautiful I Am My Own Wife to the Barron Theatre this week, and received standing ovations for both performances. Joel Glassman tackled this challenging one-man play and created a wonderful piece of theatre.
The life of German transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf is explored using many different characters, locations and time periods, and the greatest triumph of the piece was the clarity of the storytelling; each recurring character had a distinct physicality and vocal quality, whilst snapshot characters in their fleeting moments of life were detailed and real. Glassman’s deft moulding of the character of Charlotte herself left the audience feeling sympathetic towards a woman who may not have always acted in the most moral of ways; Charlotte, born Lothar Berfelde, lived through both the Nazi and Communist regimes, ‘in heels’, yet had to make some sacrifices to survive. Charlotte murdered her father as a young boy, and this is relayed delicately and powerfully. Similarly, the interjections of the character of the playwright himself remind the audience that even though Charlotte was an informant, her life in East Berlin was precarious and her love for her friend Alfred – whose prison sentence was made possible due to her information – never wavered.
The play itself is a wonderfully constructed piece of theatre; by eliminating any unnecessary actors, and allowing the actor playing Charlotte von Mahlsdorf to weave the tale of her extraordinary life, the audience gains a breathtaking insight into her story. Glassman’s control of the play was impeccable; the beads of sweat on his brow as he stood before his standing ovation were testament to the dedication and energy he poured into his performance.
Glassman’s portrayal of Charlotte was skilfully directed by Philip De Winter Shaw. The play was well crafted; every element worked beautifully, and the mature direction moulded superbly. De Winter Shaw is certainly a director worth noting. The entire piece was slick, with stage manager Cordula Schnuer ensuring transitions worked seamlessly. Andrew Muir’s lighting design complimented every element and enchanced the balanced and creative staging.
It is not difficult to see why the world premiere of I Am My Own Wife in 2004 won 14 major awards including two Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. In terms of A Certain Crowd’s telling of the story, I cannot extol the quality of this production too highly to you; it was one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen in my time at St Andrews, and I regret that there were only two performances to experience. Every member of this creative team should be extremely proud of the moving piece of theatre which they created.
Photo by Ella Ormerod