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I Am My Own Wife

In the literary world, the hazy line between fact and fiction has presented publishers with serious credibility problems during the past couple of years, but on stage, such ambiguities are the stuff of great drama, as in Doug Wright's Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning portrait of Charlotte von Halsdorf, I Am My Own Wife. Here, the eccentricities and originality of the famous transvestite, who survived both the Nazis and the Stazi, dwarf any consideration of the truth, such as it may be in a world where every regime and administration alters the historic record to suit its narrow purposes.

Unlike most gay, lesbian, or transgender individuals, Charlotte (née Lothar Berfelde) was fortunate in having a lesbian aunt who took him under her wing and explained what he was feeling, introducing him to a book on transvestitism (The Transvestite by Magnus Hirschfeld) that elegantly explained the complexities of gender (for which contemporary geneticists have found plenty of evidence).

The result of this coup de maître was that Charlotte developed a no-nonsense approach to her condition, adopting the black dress of a peasant woman, with a dark leggings and practical orthopedic shoes as her uniform—her only concession to beauty being a single-strand pearl necklace.

In Eric Sandvold's astounding characterization, he takes this simple outfit and turns it into a neutral platform from which to explore not only the complexities of Charlotte's psyche, moods, and convoluted history, but three dozen other characters that weave in and out of her life.

Having witnessed a number of single-actor multiple-personality plays, including Fully Committed, The Syringa Tree, and Shadows in Bloom, I can say that what makes Sandvold uniquely qualified to inhabit this Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning piece is, in addition to his top-notch acting skills, his consummate mastery of vocal technique, as well as dialects and accents.

Sandvold is an award-winning narrator for the Library of Congress, and he uses his vast and subtle abilities for aural definition to set up each character. From the opening seconds of the play, there is never any doubt when a shift in character occurs and who that character is. You could close your eyes and sense this as well.

Credit for this clarity must also go to director Christy Montour-Larson, who has seen that Sandvold holds and moves as character and mood dictate, making the most of every emotional twist and turn. Michael R. Duran's economical and elegant set provides detail while giving free reign to the script's imaginative shifts in time and place. Annette Westerby's props are exquisite and lend strength to Charlotte's refined sensibilities. Brian Freeland's mix of sound and projections add shading and definition that are perfectly reflected as well in Charles Dean Packard's well-calibrated lighting palette.

Curious Theatre Company's production of Doug Wright's I Am My Own Wife runs through October 14th. For ticket information: 303-623-0524 or www.curioustheatre.org.

Bob Bows

 

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