I am naturally sceptical of one-man plays. In the age of blockbuster entertainment, large scale productions, explosions, fireworks, romance, CGI, incest, dragons, it’s difficult for me to imagine the dramatic impact of one person performing in front of me for two hours. I Am My Own Wife challenges that misconception.
I Am My Own Wife was written by Doug Wright in 1992 and was inspired entirely by a series of real-life interviews he conducted with German antiquarian Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. Wright travelled to Berlin a few years after the Wall came down, and came across Mahlsdorf in her Museum of Ordinary Objects shortly thereafter.
Born Lothar Berfelde, Mahlsdorf discovered herself as a trans person around the age of 8, and began dressing in women’s clothing shortly after. As an adolescent, Mahlsdorf killed her abuse Nazi father and was sentenced to four years in juvenile prison. She narrowly avoided imprisonment thanks to the foreign occupation of Germany at the time. Mahlsdorf’s entire life as narrated by Wright seems to be a series of near misses and coincidental escapes that span the Nazi regime, the Communist regime, and the Stasi interrogations.
Performer Brendan Hanson plays a stellar 36 characters throughout the two-hour performance. I expected whiplash and a heavy effort to suspend my disbelief, but found myself absolutely entranced by Hanson’s ability to interchange accents, items of clothing, oral and body languages to portray each dimension of Mahlsdorf’s narrative. I absolutely praise lighting designer Chris Donnelly and set designer Cherish Marrington for their work creating a diverse stage that illustrated every different setting of the play, from museum to prison to talk show. Multiplicity is the foundation of the one-man play, and Marrington and Donnelly brought that to life.
I Am My Own Wife relies on an emphatic discourse about the existence of the LGBTQI+ community through time and through different spaces. Too often, we see the social ground gained by LGBTQI+ identifiers and allies attributed to so-called modern notions such as political correctness and equal representation. In reality, these notions are anything but modern. I Am My Own Wife is a thorough reminder that people who are not heterosexual and/or cisgender have always existed, have survived, and have been celebrated.
I Am My Own Wife is hosted by Studio Underground at the State Theatre Centre of WA, and is directed by Joe Hooligan Lui. The season runs until Sunday 29 October.