I Am My Own Wife, by Doug Wright. Directed by Trey Morehouse. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Rylan Morsbach as Charlotte von Mahlsldorff; photo: Dan Salzer
"I became it."
Rylan Morsbach as Alfred; photo: Dan Salzer
Self-adaptation, the ability to become one with the world that immediately surrounds you, is a trait more people can discover within themselves than may be believed. At a young age Lothar Berfelde found within himself a female identity that he felt safe enlisting and he became Charlotte. "Becoming..." is what Charlotte is really all about for Lothar and what he needs to survive in a Germany where the Nazi movement is growing, the Communist regime is waiting and Americans are willing to do anything to purchase a piece of her homeland. Lothar is a girl inside, just as his aunt replicates the male entity inside of herself. The two enhance each other's identities and support them and as the years go on and Lothar, now Charlotte, defends her right to exist as she is, that need to transform takes on a velocity that is unanticipated.
Like Charlotte, actor Rylan Morsbach must transform into about thirty different people in order to truly tell Charlotte's story. Among his many characters is playwright Doug Wright, an American mid-west Gay man who has decided to write Charlotte's story as a play, this very play we are watching on stage at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, NY. It could almost be said that Wright is the main character in his own play, for his appearances under Trey Morehouse's direction, make Doug the best character in the work. He is a man with scruples, with a desire to get things right, make them right if necessary. While Charlotte in her changes becomes difficult at times, Doug is always sincere and straight-on-track.
One of the most interesting characters Morsbach portrays is the aging Gay German art collector, Alfred who sacrifices himself after letting his appetite for handsome young Americans get in the way of his better judgement. Alfred himself transforms from a dapper, airy gentleman into an angry, humiliated homosexual whose bitterness gets the better of himself. All of the characters Morsbach portrays are special and unique; there is no overlap in his work - we always know who he is, which character he is playing through his excellent vocal portraits and his physical appearance (an art, really, as he rarely ever moves away from his black peasant dress and apron appearance).
Rylan Morsbach; photo: Dan Salzer
The use of photos and film from the era of the play's back-story on a wonderful flexible acting space designed by Andrea Nice keeps the show very much alive and not merely a memory play. This brings into the play an unanticipated reality that makes Charlotte's story so much more believable. The subtly changing backdrop allows us to see and feel every experience of Charlotte's as she relates it to Doug. In fact it is the visual aspect of the show that brings to the forefront the emotional reactions Charlotte experiences. Sound also helps here - early Kurt Weill's German music in the cabaret sequence and his American sound as prologue - perfectly clarify the era (just Weill's particular harmonics and rhythms take us to Berlin just pre-war WWII) Kristoffer Ross as Technical Director is probably responsible for ths.
Hubbard Hall has provided a wonderful production with props and technical elements practically exploding with perfection all over the place including the lighting design by Dan Salzer. Originally presented in Ashfield, MA by Jeannine Haas' Pauline Productions this show touches on perfection. I've only seen it once before, eleven years ago at Barrington Stage and though I rarely like one person plays, this true story has such a deliberate way about itself that the play hangs together wonderfully and, in this production, the actor becomes the ensemble of players he needs to tell this story.
The two week production is at least two weeks too short. This play requires the life that can come through an engaged audience. In Cambridge, NY that audience is waiting for that tiny shove to make them come out to see a play about transvestism, transgendering, homosexuality, Nazi and Communist philosophies. Here's that gentle nudge. . .right up the backside: The play is wonderful, the creative work is marvelous and the actor is superb. How's that for a shove!
I Am My Own Wife runs weekends through March 17 on the Mainstage at Hubbard Hall, 25 East Main Streeet, Cambridge, NY. For information and tickets go their website at hubbardhall.org or call the box office at 518-677-2495.