Saturday, September 16, 2006

A 'WIFE' review from the Richmond Times-Dispatch!!



Firehouse stages a must-see
In I Am My Own Wife, masterful acting meets the demands of challenging story

BY SUSAN HAUBENSTOCK
SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
Sep 16, 2006

THEATER REVIEW: I AM MY OWN WIFE

This is just the kind of play that Firehouse Theatre Project does best: a recent off-Broadway and Broadway award winner with a tricky subject.And it's the kind of play that local treasure Scott Wichmann does better than anyone: an incredibly demanding real-life drama in which he morphs seamlessly among 35 roles and multiple accents.

I Am My Own Wife won its playwright, Doug Wright, an Obie, a Tony and the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for drama.It was in the early 1990s, soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that an American journalist friend of Wright's told him about Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a homosexual and transvestite who had somehow survived the Nazis and the East Germans.

Fascinated by the decorative arts and by machines of a century earlier, Charlotte was running her house in Mahlsdorf, Germany, as a museum, especially proud of her gramophones and clocks.

Wright, who is a character in his own play, became fascinated with Charlotte. A gay man himself, Wright was especially riveted by Charlotte's incredible ability to be herself - not closeted at all - under two regimes that routinely persecuted and executed homosexuals.

As Charlotte unfolds her story to Wright, he begins to find evidence that she may have endured partly by informing on others to the brutal Stasi secret police. But the case is far from airtight, and the moral ground becomes slippery.

As intriguing as Charlotte's story is the showcase it provides for an actor with Wichmann's gifts. The precision of his voice is impressive as he becomes a German news anchor, a talk-show host, an SS officer.Even more arresting is his physical fluidity.

As Charlotte he moves deliberately, slowly, thin arms projecting from the sack of a dress designed by Lisa Lippman. He acts even with his wrists, flowing as he creates the illusion of Charlotte's lesbian aunt handing a book on sexual deviance to young Lothar Berfelde, the boy Charlotte once was. Especially affecting is Wichmann's portrayal of Alfred Kirchner, a gay man and a longtime friend of Charlotte's, a fellow collector of clocks and Edison phonographs.

Morrie Piersol directs Wichmann expertly, shaping and delineating each character. A simple set is provided by Edwin Slipek Jr., with careful lighting by Michael Mauren and excellent sound design by Ryan Corbett and Trey Pollard.

Ultimately, Wright challenges the audience to consider who Charlotte is and what part of her story is true.This, with Wichmann's masterful performance, is what raises I Am My Own Wife above the level of a curiosity to must-see theater.

Firehouse Theatre Project at 1609 W. Broad St. Thru Oct. 7
$20 (discounts for students and seniors)
(804) 355-2001 www.firehousetheatre.org

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