Born Lothar Berfelde in 1928, she recognises from an early age a predilection for all things female and a ‘girl born in a boy’s body’. Finding an un-likely confidant in her Aunt, herself female to male transgender, and upon release from prison for killing her abusive Nazi father, Lothar finds the resilience to live life as Charlotte von Mahlsdorf throughout the oppressive regimes.
Meeting her just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Wright proposes a work based on their conversations about her life story. Thankfully for us, von Mahlsdorf agrees, because this is a most intriguing biographical work.
The writing is flawless. It is everything you want a great theatrical piece to be – witty, intense, clever, enchanting and thoughtful. It would be easy for Wright to portray von Mahlsdorf as merely an oppressed, victimised minority or the heroin in the face of adversity, but what Wright does so skilfully, is leave you with snippets of doubt behind Charlotte’s actions – collusion, informer, thief, killer, hero. These, you are left to ponder, walk away and determine.
Restrained yet powerful in his storytelling, Joe Hooligan Luis’ direction and stirring soundscape add to the accomplishment of this very difficult piece and actor Brendan Hanson looks as comfortable with Luis’ direction as it is to watch, each moment representing purpose and meaning. One small staging matter is the beautifully symbolic use of the ‘doll house’ model furnishings that only those with centre audience seating get to fully appreciate.
Congratulations to the design team for such considered collaboration. Lighting, set and costume merge effortlessly to produce a sepia-like ambience. One could almost smell the musty, stale Gründerzeit antique museum rich with the furnishings of fellow Berliners ‘collected’ or ‘acquired’ throughout von Mahlsdorf’s lifetime.
If an actor could play the role of a lifetime, I’m sure Charlotte von Mahlsdorf would be one of them. Brendan Hanson relishes this opportunity. A few diction issues aside, Hanson’s characterisations, in particular von Mahlsdorf herself, are impressive. 36 characters in a 90 minute, one act, one-man performance is a feat for the hardiest of performers (Congratulations to dialect coach Luzita Fereday). Hanson presents us with a refined, skilful and moving understanding of this most unconventional life.
I Am My Own Wife is a piece with a lot to like and I would encourage all to get along to see this most absorbing piece. The season runs until Sunday 29 October, Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA. (tickets)
Director/ Composer/Sound Designer: Joe Hooligan Lui
Cast: Brendan Hanson
Set & Costume Designer: Cherish Marrington
Lighting Designer: Chris Donnelly
Photo credits: Daniel J Grant
Warning: Adult themes, Suitability: Ages 16+