I didn’t intend to write a review of this work, but my Instagram post was getting out of hand…! So, I’ve transplanted my thoughts into a blog post.
Last night we saw I Am My Own Wife at QUT Gardens Theatre. The play, written by Doug Wright, has won every major drama award, including the Pultizer, and it not difficult to see why – it is not only a compelling portrait of an extraordinary life under two of the Western world’s most oppressive regimes, but also an ethical question of what we do when our heroes turn out to be made of glass.
The play is essentially a verbal history of the life of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who killed her father when she was a young child and survived the Nazi and Communist regimes in East Berlin as a transgender woman, an antiquarian and the curator of the Gründerzeit museum. Ben Gerrard brings 37 characters to the stage in this one-person play, including Charlotte and the character of the playwright Doug Wright, who spent hundreds of hours interviewing Charlotte. Gerrard tackles a slew of accents with impressive consistency, switching cleanly between voices and characters from moment to moment.
As the play reaches its second Act, the audience begins to see Charlotte as an unreliable narrator, and Doug’s desperate desire for her to be the martyr he has imagined becomes pertinent as her story gains traction in the media and begins to be picked apart. Was Charlotte a benign museum curator, or an enthusiastic Stasi informant? A liar? Mentally ill? A survivor and a victim? A traitor and a killer? The work leans distinctly towards Charlotte as a victim of circumstance even as it is confirmed that she gave information leading to the arrest of fellow antiques collector Alfred Kirchner.
Apparently there has only been one major production of this work starring a transgender artist, which is disappointing, but Gerrard takes on the role of Charlotte with clear care, emotional intensity, and attention to detail. The performance had minimal staging and clever lighting design, and was utterly captivating from beginning to end. I’d be interested to now read Charlotte’s autobiographical book of the same title, and to measure this work against her own words.