Theatre Review: I Am My Own Wife is a Heartfelt and Funny Gem
Bringing Doug Wright’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning script I Am My Own Wife to the stage is something you can tell is no easy feat. The fast paced, character packed one man show balances precariously on the shoulders of the precise timing of cues in each microscopic scene within the work, a myriad of skilful acting transitions and a whole lot of gritty heart and soul. Thankfully, Black Swan State Theatre Company and the fabulous Brendan Hanson have risen to the challenge triumphantly, delivering us an exhilarating, funny and ultimately heartfelt gem of a story.
Brendan Hanson plays no less than thirty-six characters throughout the play, often with transition times between characters little more than the blink of an eye. Told in a flashback style, the narrative itself follows the true story of an eclectic old German transvestite museum owner in the 1990s, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, whose life has spanned over some of Germany’s darkest chapters. Growing up during the rise of the Nazi Party in the 1930s as a young boy who defiantly preferred girls’ clothing, Charlotte’s personal story is beautifully played out by Hanson against the darkening backdrop of German society leading into the Second World War, before jumping from one dangerous period to the next.
(Photos by Daniel J Grant)
It is 1960s Communist Germany, and Charlotte is curating historical artefacts and furniture for her beloved Gründerzeit Museum, which would come to make her an icon of German society. All throughout the flashbacks from her past to ‘present’ (being interviewed by an enthusiastic young American in 1991), the one thing that holds true is Charlotte’s resilient pride in her self-proclaimed transvestism, despite the fact that for the majority of her life, her mere identity would have put her at dire risk of persecution. This courage is testament to the strength of character you can just feel coming out of Doug Wright’s writing, surpassing nationality, gender or sexuality as she proclaims at a particular climactic point, “I am my own wife!”
The supporting characters are wonderfully played by Brendan Hanson, with shifting postures and accents enough to indicate to the audience a change. Props must be given to dialect coach Luzita Fereday as well as Hanson for pulling off so many different accents often in rapid succession, and director and sound designer Joe Hooligan Lui for creating such a dynamic yet fitting atmosphere in the production.
I Am My Own Wife was a beautiful play to watch, and the simplistic yet powerful symbolism integrated in the set design certainly heightened this, the handiwork of Set and Costume designer Cherish Marrington. A tale of resilience packed with tongue in cheek humour, this play has a lot to teach people of all ages about courage, friendship and approaching life with a load of grit. A spoonful of eye opening German history, a dash of indulgent flamboyance—it’s damn well a recipe for a great show.