Theater Hop: I Am My Own Wife
Written by Bwog Staff
Bwog theater critic Morgan Childs attended last night’s production of I Am My Own Wife.
It takes a great deal of confidence–or perhaps recklessness–to break the rules of any contemporary play, much less one that has garnered significant attention across the national stage. The sheer notion of staging Doug Wright’s 2004 I Am My Own Wife with a cast of nine seems to be a violation of the playwright’s principle intent for the play; that is, to put on display a man whose identity is entirely of his own choosing. But CU Players’ production raises the stakes of Wright’s script even higher, demanding that the audience continue to probe its themes to their fullest and to implore its conception of the self far beyond the text. CU Players’ production functions quite elegantly in opposition with and as a complement to the play its author originally intended.
I Am My Own Wife is primarily the story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a male German transvestite and survivor of both the Nazi and Communist regimes in East Berlin. The play is also the narrative of Wright himself, written as a character within the play, whose investment in Charlotte pervades and informs the piece as a whole. A single male actor typically plays both roles, in addition to some forty others, but CU Players’ skillful adaptation lends its many voices to a cast of nine. Credit is due most notably to director Amanda Stoffel, whose vision for the piece is clearly realized from its beginning.
Stoffel works from moment to moment, tableau to tableau, stringing each piece of the play in polished succession like the pearls the actors don in a single, simple movement. The achieved effect is one of graceful understatement. Stoffel’s apt direction works in tandem with the play’s light and sound, both of which are used sparingly yet effectively, and the world she creates is both playful and poised. Unfortunately, Roone Arledge fails to lend itself to a production this intimate (particularly because the actors’ accented speech is quickly lost in the expanse of the auditorium).
The play’s cast–five women, four men–directly engages in the conversation Wright begs his readers to have; that is, one that directly addresses several points along the spectrum of gender and sexuality. Each actor plays Charlotte and the playwright, and as Stoffel writes in her program note, each informs the audience of a unique aspect of the characters’ complicated identities. The production does fall short of addressing the fluid role of gender within Charlotte’s world, particularly because nine actors could more easily represent the underground homosexual and transvestite presence in East Germany than only one man. But Stoffel’s actors nonetheless achieve the director’s intent for the piece, and as a cast of mostly first- and second- year students, they represent a force of talent to be watched and to be reckoned with.
While Wright’s one-man I Am My Own Wife challenges a single actor with an astounding endurance test, the energy in this production is dispersed among its nine performers. However, what the performance lacks in vivacity is made up for in elegance and in sheer achievement. Stoffel’s vision and CU Players’ production remind us of what Columbia theater should do always: to approach student theater with an awareness of its resources and with a willingness to take artistic risks. The result, this performance shows, can be quite lovely.
Catch the last two performances, tonight in Roone at 8 PM and 11 PM.