Thursday, 28 April 2011

I Am My Own Wife by Doug Wright, Tasmanian Theatre Company, tour Vic April-June 2011

 I Am My Own Wife
Whitehorse Centre, April 28
Star rating:***

In this solo play, I Am My Own Wife, Robert Jarman plays Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, described as Germany’s most notorious transvestite. It is a challenging role and Jarman and director Annette Downs, provide a competent but not masterly interpretation of Doug Wright’s award-winning play.

We witness the chequered life of Charlotte who was born a man in Berlin in 1928, but lived her entire life as a woman, choosing not glamorous drag queen garb, but drab peasant dress, headscarf, boots, a string of pearls and no make-up.

The eccentric, irrepressible Charlotte survived the Nazi and Communist regimes to become a legend in Berlin and win a medal of honour. Her private museum displayed her Grilnderzeit antiques (1890-1900) and she ran an illegal, gay club in her cellar for thirty years.

Her reputation was tarnished when, in the 1990s, she was outed as a Stasi informant who betrayed her friends.

We see Charlotte through the initially na├»ve eyes of writer, Doug Wright, a character in his own play. Such self-referential writing can fail. Here it illustrates that Charlotte’s stories are well rehearsed and her truth is clouded.

Using vocal and physical shifts, Jarman creates a cast of characters. Sometimes the character changes are loose and Charlotte’s German-accented English is inconsistent, but Charlotte’s eccentricities and startling story are compelling.

Comparisons must be made with the consummate performance we saw in 2006 of Jefferson Mays in the Tony Award winning production. Jarman and Downs must sharpen the detail, timing and theatricality to meet that level.

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