The 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner I Am My Own Wife by Doug Wright is as complex as the overstuffed shelves of the set in Theatre Raleigh’s current production of this work. This is a theatrical piece that first and foremost demands the skillful ability of an actor to take on over 30 characters with careful and specific detail and that is not something that just any actor is capable of doing.
One of the best decisions made by Theatre Raleigh in producing this intricate show is to feature veteran Triangle actor David Henderson, who shines in the role of German transvestite and founder of the GründerzeitMuseum of everyday objects Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (1928-2002) — born Lothar Berfelde. Henderson deftly moves from character to character; and under the direction of Jesse R. Gephart, it feels almost like a ballet has been woven together with clear but graceful choreography traveling through multiple characters amidst transitions that are seemless and clear enough for audience members to grasp and differentiate each individual character as it is introduced.
We always know who is being portrayed; and this is made clear through vocal work, dialect, and physical shifts … and we believe this without major costume changes. The Henderson and Gephart team have succeeded in their efforts to create the ensemble of players necessary to tell this story, all beautifully housed inside the body of one capable actor, who dances almost flawlessly. There were only a couple of times that dialect or position on stage made it difficult to hear or understand.
As the story unfolds, one of the themes that emerges is an understanding of what it means for us humans to be in the process of becoming who we are meant to be as well as the ways in which we have no choice other than to be that which is true but also that which is necessary to survive. Charlotte seems to be neither hero nor antihero but rather just human with all the flaws that come along with that, which brings this Phantom to what I believe is the most important point made by the play and that is honoring, loving, and respecting people and “metaphorically” things even when we see that there is damage and imperfection.
When Charlotte says that just because something is damaged, it doesn’t mean that we toss it out, this Phantom looked around at the age-diverse audience, wondering if this comment had sunk in. Do we really understand how damaging it is to toss people and things out as garbage without respect for the story that each holds?
Theatre Raleigh’s I Am My Own Wife experience forces each of us to ponder our own lives and histories as well. What will we carefully keep as treasure (both people and things) despite the flaw or damage or sometimes even the ugliness?
Scenic design by Chris Bernier and lighting design by Andrew Parks work together perfectly in establishing the “feeling” that we are in a “museum-like” shadowland of Mahlsdorf’s life. This combination is inviting and works to encourage each of us to both view and, perhaps, lean into the shelves and secrets of our own lives.
Carefully planned sound design by Eric Alexander Collins and property design by Tim Domack flesh out the details that we need to travel along providing an anchoring understanding of where we are in the story. The use of projected images to establish place is not quite as effective, and there were members of the audience sitting close by (including The Phantom) who were not aware at first that that certain images were being projected until we saw folks on the house right and house left sides looking up.
However, the image of Charlotte at the end of the show did draw a response from the audience. There were audible “Oh my’s” and “Look at that’s” all around the theater. Remember The Phantom attends shows and is experiencing work fresh, just like a normal theatergoer, without being served to a special “just right” seat. Hopefully, this will encourage directors and designers to think about the experience for each and every audience member.
This Theatre Raleigh presentation is well worth the ticket price. I Am My Own Wife is well-done and will encourage conversations that continue well beyond the parking lot.
SECOND OPINION: July 13th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2019/07/brazen-and-beautiful-theatre-raleighs-i-am-my-own-wife-proves-thought-provoking-and-relevant/; July 12th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Roy C. Dicks: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=9508; July 12th Raleigh, NC Talkin’ Broadway: Raleigh/Durham review by Garrett Southerland: https://www.talkinbroadway.com/page/regional/rd/rd73.html; and June 30th Cary, NC RDU on Stage audio podcast interview with director Jesse R. Gephart, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert: https://rduonstage.com/podcast/ep-26-jesse-gephart-on-i-am-my-own-wife-and-susan-steadman-on-nc-10-by-10/.
Theatre Raleigh presents I AM MY OWN WIFE, directed by Jesse R. Gephart and starring David Henderson as Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, at 8 p.m. July 17-19, 2 and 8 p.m. July 20, and 3 p.m. July 21 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theatre in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $35 ($32.50 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel).
BOX OFFICE: 919-832-9997, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://theatreraleigh.secure.force.com/ticket/#details_a0S61000005W4M3EAK.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-832-9997 or email@example.com.
SHOW: https://theatreraleigh.com/i-am-my-own-wife/, https://www.facebook.com/events/402611993908128/, and https://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/events/i-am-my-own-wife-theatre-raleigh.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVQsNd1sL7E and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBrPHqUNhtfRMWQ2Ej8Fxeg.
2019 SUMMER SERIES: https://theatreraleigh.com/subscribe/.
PRESENTER: http://www.theatreraleigh.com/, https://www.facebook.com/TheatreRaleigh/, https://twitter.com/TheatreRaleigh, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBrPHqUNhtfRMWQ2Ej8Fxeg.
Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (German transvestite founder of the Gründerzeit Museum of everyday objects, nee Lothar Berfelde, 1928-2002): http://womenineuropeanhistory.org/index.php?title=Charlotte_von_Mahlsdorf (Women in European History), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0902653/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_von_Mahlsdorf (Wikipedia).
I Am My Own Wife (2003 Off-Broadway and Broadway drama and 2004 Tony Award® for Best Play and Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner): http://iobdb.com/Production/2592 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/i-am-my-own-wife-11252 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.pulitzer.org/winners/doug-wright (Pulitzer Prizes page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_My_Own_Wife (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: https://www.goodmantheatre.org/Documents/Study%20Guides/0405%20Season/I%20AM%20MY%20OWN%20WIFE%20Student%20Guide.pdf (Goodman Theatre of Chicago).
Doug Wright (Dallas, TX-born playwright and screenwriter): http://iobdb.com/CreditableEntity/299 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/doug-wright-113564 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0942354/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doug_Wright (Wikipedia).
Jesse R. Gephart (Garner, NC director): http://www.abouttheartists.com/artists/394495-jesse-gephart (AboutTheArtists resume), https://raleighlittletheatre.org/people/jesse-r-gephart/ (Raleigh Little Theatre bio), and http://facebook.com/jrgephart (Facebook page).
David Henderson (Raleigh, NC actor and co-artistic director and founder of Honest Pint Theatre Company): https://www.honestpinttheatre.org/copy-of-our-mission (Honest Pint bio), http://www.abouttheartists.com/artists/455982-david-henderson-2 (AboutTheArtists resume), https://www.facebook.com/theatrescot (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/theatrescot (Twitter page).
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