Next to Urinetown, the play may have the most unusual story you'll currently hear on Broadway.
The unique I Am My Own Wife defies easy categorization — is it a play? a character study? a theatrical investigation? Playwright Wright even includes himself as a character (played by Mays in what observer say is a good vocal impersonation of the author), trying to unravel the mystery of the gentle Charlotte von Mahlsdorf.
Donning black cap and a black — almost austerely religious — tunic-skirt, Jefferson Mays performs more than 40 international characters involved in the world of the delicate and unflamboyant Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who died before the play could see the light of day. She was aware of the writing of the project, however.
The Wright character finds himself increasingly frustrated that Charlotte cannot be easily dramatized or defined. Was she a gentle aesthete and German gay culture doyenne and hostess, or did she collaborate with the communist secret police? Or was she all of the above?
David Richenthal produces with partners Anthony Marshall and Charlene Marshall, in association with Playwrights Horizons, which staged the acclaimed Off-Broadway premiere earlier this year. Moisés Kaufman (The Laramie Project, Gross Indecency) directs, as he did in regional developmental stagings and Off Broadway. For the Broadway engagement, the balcony of the Lyceum has been blocked off, to create a more intimate atmosphere (seating there is now 704). There are slight scenic modifications in the move from Playwrights to the Lyceum: Along the back wall, which shows a museum-like collection of furniture and gramophones, there are more pieces because the wall is higher. The downstage is now raked.
Designers are Derek McLane (scenic), Janice Pytel (costume), David Lander (lighting) and Andre J. Pluess and Ben Sussman (sound).
Act One is billed as Phonographs, Act Two is Clocks.
Tickets are on sale via Telecharge at (212) 239-6200. The Lyceum is at 149 W. 45th Street.
Wright explains in a Playbill program note, "I Am My Own Wife draws upon several sources: transcribed interviews I conducted with its subject, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, from our initial meeting in August of 1992 until January 1993; letters we exchanged until her death in 2002; newspaper accounts of her life in the public record; her Stasi file, and my own personal, sometimes selective remembrances of our encounters. I have taken the customary liberties of the dramatist: editing for clarity, condensing several pivotal characters into one utilitarian one, and imagining some scenes I only heard recounted, while inventing others for narrative clarity."
In an earlier note in the Off-Broadway Playbill, he wrote, "While I hope the text does justice to the fundamental truths of Charlotte's singular life and essential character, it is not a definitive biography. It is, rather, a subjective, theatrical portrait."
The project is alluring to producers for a number of reasons: Because of the names involved, including Quills playwright Wright and Laramie Project creator Kaufman; the rave reviews; and the affordable cast size. At the center of it all is an indelible character and a unique way of telling her story.
I Am My Own Wife opened at PH's mainstage on West 42nd Street May 27 after previews from May 2. It extended twice, closing Aug. 3.
The play was developed in regional theatres around the country in developmental situations, The About Face Theatre workshop run in Chicago, which wasn't meant to be reviewed, got raves. It played in association with the Museum of Contemporary Art.
A workshop of I Am My Own Wife was presented by La Jolla Playhouse and the play was developed in part with support of the Sundance Theatre Laboratory.