Will I Am My Own Wife Cross the Commercial Threshold?

News   Will I Am My Own Wife Cross the Commercial Threshold? The well-reviewed new Doug Wright play, I Am My Own Wife, is being looked at by a number of commercial producers, but the future of the piece is not yet clear.

The show is so unusual — an actor is a black dress and pearls plays a world of male and female roles on a mostly blank set punctuated with props — that it needs an especially imaginative producer to take it to the next stage, as they say.

Actor Jefferson Mays is featured as a number of characters (including playwright Wright) in a theatrical investigation — "play" seems too limiting — of the life and times of a German transvestite, the late Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf, who survived the Nazis and the communists.

The New York Post reported June 20 that Take Me Out producer Carole Shorenstein Hays wants to put the intimate solo play into the Lyceum Theatre.

A spokesman for Playwrights Horizons, where the play is enjoying an extended Off-Broadway run to July 20, said, "Playwrights Horizons is currently exploring many options for the future life of I Am My Own Wife. There are several producers who have expressed interest. Both Broadway and Off-Broadway are possibilities. No decision has been made. Playwrights Horizons and the creative team of I Am My Own Wife are working together to do what's best for the play."

The Moisés Kaufman-directed solo-actor show has been extended six weeks beyond its initial engagement. Full page ads in newspapers have spread word of its good reviews, as if to lure producers. Producers are circling the tale of the real-life German transvestite for a number of reasons: The names involved, including Quills playwright Wright and Laramie Project creator Kaufman, plus the rave reviews and the affordable cast size.

I Am My Own Wife opened at PH's mainstage on West 42nd Street May 27 after previews from May 2.

The play was developed in regional theatres around the country in developmental situations (a workshop run in Chicago that wasn't meant to be reviewed got raves). Performances were to continue to June 8 before the extension was announced.

*

Based on a true story, and inspired by interviews conducted by the playwright over several years, I Am My Own Wife tells the tale of "Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a real-life German transvestite who managed to survive both the Nazi onslaught and the following, repressive Communist regime," according to production notes. "The one-man play stars Obie-Award winner Jefferson Mays as a host of characters, including the controversial figure herself and an American writer who becomes intrigued by her."

Wright said in a statement: "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. 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 artists involved come with choice credits. Wright is the respected Obie and Kesselring Award-winning author of the play, Quills, and its screenplay; Kaufman is the director and co-creator of Gross Indecency and The Laramie Project (initiated by Tectonic Theater Project, which he founded and artistic-directs); and Obie Award winner Mays appeared in Quills, Lydie Breeze and Orestes Off-Broadway.

Designers are Derek McLane (scenic), Janice Pytel (costume), David Lander (lighting) and Andre J. Pluess and Ben Sussman (sound).

Playwrights Horizons is at 416 W. 42nd Street. Tickets for I Am My Own Wife are $50. For subscription and ticket information to all Playwrights Horizons productions, call (212) 279-4200, or visit www.playwrightshorizons.org.

*

Next at the intimate Peter J. Sharp studio theatre on the fourth floor of the PH building is Theresa Rebeck's Bad Dates (June 3-July 6), starring Julie White, navigating monologues about — you guessed it — bad dates.