By Dee Jae Cox
“I Am My Own Wife.” Doug Wright’s Pulitzer prize winning play, currently in production at Coachella Valley Repertory, is a one man show that follows the intricate weavings of a life that has taken so many twists and turns through tragedy and triumphant survival, that one would need a road map to retrace the thousand steps and near death experiences of this incredible true story of Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf. Born Lothar Berfelde, Mahlsdorf killed his abusive father when he was a teen and survived the Nazi and Communist regimes in East Berlin. He was a transvestite and a celebrated antiques dealer who successfully navigated the two most oppressive regimes of the past century-the Nazis and the Communists–while openly gay and defiantly in drag.
Von Mahlsdorf was both hailed as a cultural hero and accused of colluding with the Stasi (East Germany’s secret police). It’s hard to imagine surviving the Nazi killing machine and the East German Communist regime without playing every angle and every option presented. Wright’s creativity in telling the biography of this man is masterful and there is no question about why this work was the winner of multiple Tony awards, a Pulitzer and a Lambda Literary Award.
Vince Gatton, in his portrayal of Von Mahlosdorf, along with a couple of dozen other characters, was absolutely brilliant. His ability to transition from the main character into a separate and very distinct different character and voice and then back again, was nothing short of astonishing. From German to Southern, his grasp of the accents and character was spot on. He was smooth and seamless and kept the story flowing with continuity and insight. It is rare, unless your name is Lily Tomlin, that a one-person show can manage to capture and captivate for its entirety without ones attention starting to wane at some point. But Gatton accomplishes this task with apparent ease. Though the work it took to master this script was undoubtedly a major task, the payoff was evident.
Ron Celona, did not disappoint in his artful direction of this play. His skill in staging enhanced an already poignant script. Jimmy Cuomo’s set design was captivating. Detailed and complex and mirrored the story perfectly. Aalsa Lee’s costume design, Moira Wilkie’s Lighting design and Randy Hansen’s sound all played supporting roles in the professional presentation of this production.
This is a show for all ages, though probably not a story that would entertain young children.
“I Am My Own Wife, is in production at the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre located at 69930 Highway 111, Suite 116, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270 through March 27th.
For Reservations: call 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org
Dee Jae Cox, is a playwright, director and producer. She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director of The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project and the host of, “California Woman 411”.