A one-person take on gays under East Germany

Charlie DelMarcelle plays Charlotte von Mahlsdorf and other roles in "I Am My Own Wife," at Theatre Horizon.
Charlie DelMarcelle plays Charlotte von Mahlsdorf and other roles in "I Am My Own Wife," at Theatre Horizon. (matthewjphoto.com)
Posted: November 12, 2013

Do you like your biographies historically accurate, or delivered with artistic license? Your preference - and judgment - will matter much in how you respond to Doug Wright's I Am My Own Wife, now receiving a sharply performed, thought-provoking production at Theatre Horizon.

Wright's one-person play centers on interviews he conducted in 1992-93 with Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (Charlie DelMarcelle), an East German transvestite and antiquarian who ran the Gr├╝nderzeit Museum and provided a haven for gays and lesbians under East German repression.

In DelMarcelle's performance, Charlotte easily engages and at first captivates, convincing Wright in her interviews that she is nothing less than "the most singular eccentric individual the Cold War ever birthed."

But like the antiques she preserves, her stories crack, and embellishments lose luster. Wright discovers that this unlikely survivor of both the Nazis and the German Democratic Republic may have endured and amassed her museum's collection by purloining items from deported Jews and dissidents arrested by the East German secret police.

DelMarcelle's complex performance amplifies these dichotomies, deepening the division between Wright's quest for truth and Charlotte's desire to preserve her own myth. He portrays more than 30 roles, these delineated without costume - only by DelMarcelle's remarkable shifts in gait and posture, and the subtle, skillful shifts in tone of David Todaro's lighting that match the changes in DelMarcelle's tenor.

Wright's play invites us to judge her - which his character mostly refuses to do. As a gay man who grew up in the Bible Belt, Wright needed her story of survival to be true. Here, too, DelMarcelle embraces and adds to the complexity, never baiting us to sympathize with either Wright or Charlotte's emotional attachment to either version of her story.

As written, the script is as much about Wright as it is about Charlotte; at Theatre Horizon, we're equal participants, asked to evaluate each revelation in the short pauses of Kathryn MacMillan's direction.

So which do you prefer? Hard truth? Or comforting fiction? In Charlotte's story, "art survives."


THEATER REVIEW

I Am My Own Wife

Presented by Theatre Horizon, 401 DeKalb St., Norristown, through Nov. 24.

Tickets: $22 to $35

Information: 610-283-2230 or www.theatrehorizon.org

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