I AM MY OWN WIFE by Doug Wright, directed by Robin Phillips (CanStage). At the Bluma Appel (27 Front East). To March 4. $36-$80, some discounts. See Continuing Listings for details. 416-368-3110. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Doug Wright's I Am My Own Wife comes festooned with many honours, including Obie, Drama Desk, Tony and Pulitzer awards.
All of which makes you leave the Bluma Appel Theatre thinking, "Whaaaat?"
Wright's one-person play focuses on the enigmatic figure of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a real-life transgendered German who survived the Nazis and the Communists. Born Lothar Berfelde, Charlotte grew up defying social conventions by dressing in women's clothes, and later, when she owned a respected antique store, secretly housing a notorious gay bar in her basement.
Wright, who also figures as a character in the story, isn't sure what to make of his protagonist, especially after reading documents that suggest Charlotte turned in other gay men and lesbians to the Stasi, the East German secret police.
Was she a courageous queer hero who miraculously survived two of the most oppressive regimes of the 20th century? Or was she an evil Mata Hari outfitted in simple black dress and pearls?
The answer, of course, isn't clear, and Wright clutters his banal script with many cumbersome symbols. His Charlotte, for instance, collects keys (get it?). At another point, we're asked what to do with an antique that's lost its lustre.
This play might work better in a more intimate space, or in a Fringe Festival setting. But director Robin Phillips 's production is heavy-handed, full of fussy details (the sound cues are annoyingly cute) that make us aware of the holes in the script.
Despite Stephen Ouimette 's careful, delicately nuanced performance in multiple roles, Charlotte doesn't come alive, and we never learn in detail what it was like to be different under two extreme governments that stressed conformity.
An intriguing play is buried beneath the rubble of this script. At one point, Ouimette as Wright jokes that getting grant money for a play about the oppressed, hidden historical figure was easy.
Too bad this cynical idea which says more about politics and the arts than this lame Antiques Roadshow knockoff wasn't explored in more depth.