“I Am My Own Wife” by Doug Wright this weekend at Out North
The Pulitzer Prize-winning I Am My Own Wife by playwright Doug Wright plays one weekend only at Out North.
Performed by Brandon Demery and directed by Art Rotch, I Am My Own Wife examines the life of German antiquarian Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (1928–2002), who survived the Nazi and Communist regimes in East Berlin as a transvestite
(Accounts generally refer to von Mahlsdorg as a transvestite and a homosexual. However, von Mahlsdorf herself appeared to think of herself a female. It’s possible that if she was living today, she might identify as transgender.)
Born Lothar Berfelde in in Berlin-Mahlsdorf, Germany, von Mahlsdorf from a very young age felt like a girl and was interested in girls’ clothing. Her father, Max Berfelde, had joined the Nazi Party in the 1920s and had become a party leader in Mahlsdorf. In 1942 he forced Malhsdorf to join the Hitler Youth. In 1944 von Mahlsdorf’s mother left the family during the evacuation of Germans in the face of the advancing Red Army. Max demanded that von Mahlsdorf choose between her parents and threatened her with a gun. Von Mahlsdorf struck him dead with a rolling pin while he slept. After several weeks in a psychiatric institution, von Malhsdorf was sentenced to four years in detention by a Berlin court as an anti-social juvenile delinquent.
Von Malhsdorf was released after the end of World War 2. She began to dress more femininely and worked as a second-hand goods dealer, saving historical every-day items from bombed-out houses. Her collection evolved into the Gründerzeit Museum, which consisted of everyday articles from the Gründerzeit — which refers to the time of the founding of the German Empire (the unified German monarchy) in 1871. The Gründerzeit Museum was opened in 1960 in a partially reconstructed Mahlsdorf manor house. It became well-known in cinematic, artistic, and gay circles, and was the site of numerous celebrations and meetings among East Berlin gays from 1970.
I AM MY OWN WIFE by Doug Wright tells the story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (real name 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.
Her devotion to her astonishing collection — she turned her home into a museum — gave focus and motivation to a life whose grandest achievement was that it proceeded to its natural end. In fact, I AM MY OWN WIFE is largely about Charlotte’s enduring the cruel repressions of the Nazis and the Communists, and her harrowing tales of survival through the eras of the Gestapo and the Stasi, the East German secret police, are nothing short of breathtaking.
Ah, but are they credible? That becomes an issue in the play, which very subtly but in the end quite powerfully makes a case for the necessity of storytelling in our lives.
According to Wikipedia, in the 1990s, after a documentary about von Mahlsdorf had already been made, questions began to arise about contradictions in her biography during both the Nazi and the East Germany) period. One accusation was that her collection resulted from the breaking up of the households of Jews deported during the Third Reich supplemented by other households broken up from Germans fleeing East Germany after the war. She was also alleged to have informed to the Stasi, the East German secret police, during the 1970s.
These contradictions led to complications in the writing of the play:
What happens when a fundamental presumption of a play proves dubious? How do you tell a story without confidence in it?
Playwright Doug Wright’s solution was to write himself into the play as one of its characters. The play as a whole is based on numerous interviews conducted by Wright with von Mahlsdorf and others, creating over 30 perspectives of the main character as represented through a single performer — in the case of Out North’s production, by Brandon Demery.
I Am My Own Wife won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2004 as well as a Tony Award for Best Play and the Lambda Literary Award for Drama.
- Date/time: Friday and Saturday, April 13-14, 8 PM and Saturday, April 14, 3 PM
- Location: Out North Contemporary Art House, 3800 Debarr Rd, Anchorage (see map)
- Cost of admission: $25/$20 in advance at Out North (call 279-8099), or at the door.
- Further info: see Facebook events page