Two actors rather than the one dictated by Doug Wright's award-winning script will play the many characters in the world of German transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. Blanka Zizka, Wilma's co-artistic director, stages the production starting previews Sept. 14.
"Originally conceived for one actor, the true account of an East Berlin transvestite who lived through Nazi and Communist Germany will be fully re-imagined," Wilma announced. This is the Philadelphia premiere of the play.
According to production notes, The Wilma's production of I Am My Own Wife grew out of the theatre's relationship with Wright, which dates back to 1996, with the Wilma's Barrymore-winning production of Wright's play Quills, also directed by Blanka Zizka.
The "creative relationship which developed out of this production" led to Wright's appointment as artist-in-residence at the Wilma in 2001. I Am My Own Wife was workshopped at the Wilma during his residency, before going on to critical and audience acclaim in New York (following other developmental opportunities around the country). As Zizka prepared for the Wilma's production of the play, she approached Wright with the concept of producing the show with two actors.
"I'm very interested in exploring the dynamic in the play between Doug, a young gay writer from Texas searching for a story, and Charlotte, an enigmatic East German Transvestite who has many stories to tell," Zizka said in production notes. "For me the play is a meeting of two people who lived in two different political systems, of the enthusiasm of youth and the life experience of age, of a seeker of truth and a guardian of myth, and of a writer and a subject. I believe that two actors inhabiting these two roles will give the audience a deeper understanding of both characters."
Cast in the role of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf is Floyd King, a Washington, D.C.-based actor and a company member of The Shakespeare Theatre. Philadelphia actor Kevin Bergen will portray Doug. Both actors will also play other roles in the show, which features some 30 characters.
Why allow Zizka to produce the play with two actors? Wright said in a statement, "I didn't do it lightly. The play has a very central tenet: that one person can embody a host of contradictions, so it's fitting that one actor embodies so many points of view. That said, Blanka is one of the most innovative and responsible directors that I know. She's directed my work with such insight and zest in the past; her production of Quills was a delight. She's also a formidable theatrical intellect, and I think she has the capacity to teach me new things about a play I already know very well. I don't plan to sanction 'alternative' or 'radical' production of the work, but Blanka will always be an exception. I trust her."
Sets and sound will be designed by Jorge Cousineau, recipient of the 2004 F. Otto Haas Award for Emerging Theatre Artist. Costumes will be designed by Hiroshi Iwasaki, whose costumes were last seen at the Wilma in its production of Red. Russell Champa, who has worked on several Wilma productions, will be lighting designer.
I Am My Own Wife tickets are $10-$49. Wilma Theater is at 265 South Broad Street. For information, visit www.wilmatheater.org or call (215) 546-7824.
Following the production of I Am My Own Wife, Blanka Zizka will direct the American premiere of The Other Side, a new play by Ariel Dorman (the author of Death and the Maiden) at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York. The cast will include Tony and Oscar winner Rosemary Harris and Tony winner John Cullum. Previews begin Nov. 10.