Last weekend will remain in my memory as one of those rare weekends when each of the plays I attended was what people here rather regrettably refer to as "Broadway caliber." On Friday, I saw an Actors Theatre production of The Pillowman so magnificently acted and so deeply disturbing that nearly a week later, I'm still filled with awe and more than a little regret that I hadn't seen this show sooner, so that I might have written about it. On Sunday, I attended a matinee of Doug Wright's Pulitzer Prize-winning I Am My Own Wife, which Arizona Theatre Company is presenting as part of its annual Rep Fest. It's not often I see a show that I feel deserves its standing ovation, especially since practically everything that takes the stage anymore receives such tribute. But everything here, from Wright's credible script to Samantha K. Wyer's taut direction to Kris Stone's magnificent set design, was utterly perfect, all of it adding up to a faultless production.
I Am My Own Wife tells the rather remarkable but apparently true story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a somewhat infamous East German cross-dresser born Lothar Berfelde in 1928. Charlotte, who lived as a woman, turned her lifelong obsession with 19th-century furniture and household items, particularly gramophones and Victrolas, into a museum whose basement housed a notorious gay bar. The principle narration concerns Charlotte's surviving the cruel tyranny of the Nazis and Communists, the Gestapo and the Stasi, and the East German secret police, all of whom were aware of her peculiar business dealings yet somehow left her mostly alone.
Whether Charlotte's stories which include one about the day she murdered her abusive father, who was a Nazi are true or not becomes an issue in Act Two of the play, as it did toward the end of Charlotte's life. I found myself caring less about the veracity of Charlotte's stories than I did about the entertaining and compelling way in which they were told by Bob Sorenson, who may spend the rest of his days appearing in one-man shows and never hear a peep of complaint from me.
In Wife, Sorenson tackles some three dozen different characters, most of them fleetingly. It's his primary characters, von Mahlsdorf and playwright Doug Wright, with whom we spend the most time, and it is these two that Sorenson brings so vividly to life. No one who has seen Sorenson perform will be surprised to know that he does so here with uncanny timing and such a profound persuasiveness that I was able to forget the actor entirely no mean feat when that actor is the idiosyncratic Sorenson. He embodies Charlotte so completely that, when he switched to another character Wright, or his Texan pal John it was as if Charlotte herself were mimicking those people for us in order to make her storytelling more colorful.
And yet it couldn't have been. Because Charlotte, who died five years ago during a visit to her own museum, has been brought utterly and completely back to life in this superb retelling of her life and times.
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