When I started my work with the Jungle Theater in Uptown Minneapolis back in the fall of 2006, I Am My Own Wife had just wrapped up with a very lauded response from some of Minneapolis’ most elite theatergoers. Unfortunately, I had just missed my opportunity to see the show myself since I had started shortly after its run had ended. Five years later, it’s been remounted on the Jungle’s stage and again has been selling out on a regular basis as patrons vie to see Bradley Greenwald blow them away with his interpretation of the one man show about a transgender woman living in Germany during the second world war. Charlotte von Mahlsdorf was born a boy and lived her life as a woman in Germany in the 1940s, collecting furniture and eventually generating a museum, which she found great joy in displaying to the public. Playwright Doug Wright came across Charlotte’s collection in 1993 and instead of becoming engrossed with her assortment of fixtures, he instead became interested in Charlotte herself. I have heard nothing but good things about this show over the years and always regretted the bad timing of my employment with the theater that has brought it to the Minneapolis crowd. Luckily the second time around has worked in my favor, and after coming back to work for the Jungle after a two-year sabbatical, I’ve conveniently arrived during the remounting of I am My Own Wife and got a chance to see it last week.
If there is one thing to experience in the realm of live theater, it ought to be the attendance of a one-man show. Greenwald’s display of 40-plus characters throughout the two hours was convincing, creative, and natural. As an audience member, I conveniently was able to forget that the cast putting on this show was made up of one man: in a dress and kerchief to boot. The story followed Wright’s initial take on Charlotte and his idea to write a play about her. Charlotte acquiesces and through a series of visits and tape recordings we learn about her past encounters with her family, Nazis, and other gay, transgender, and lesbian citizens of Germany during one of the darkest decades of the country’s history. Still, Charlotte maintains a pleasant and positive demeanor in her present life, almost to a point where it wouldn’t be suspected that she lived through the reign of a dictator that had it out for those of her kind to the nth degree. She fondly resorts to the furniture that has been living with her for decades as a capsule for the good, the bad, and the sad memories that were created for her during the war. In the end we are left with a complete idea of her life and what it meant to those who knew her and for those in the GLBT community today.
It was an impressive performance to set my gaze on for the two hours it took the show to run. One of the highlights of Greenwald’s character exchange was a moment where he toggled between Doug, Charlotte, and a brief playback of Charlotte’s voice on a tape recorder. While there were many props that added to the performance throughout, this moment was entirely pantomimed and therefore was completely owned by Greenwald. He made it very much a reality that we were experiencing with him on stage, and yet he was utterly alone in creating the exchange and that is why this show was so fun to watch.
With all of that, I have to admit that there was a part of me that was disappointed in seeing this play. I think it has to do with the years of praise I experienced before I actually saw it for myself. I’m sure everyone has had this happen at one point or another. Still, I went into this show expecting to be blown away just like the audiences I had served behind the box office window and concessions stand had been back in 2006. And while I was impressed, amused, and moved by Greenwald’s acting and Joel Sass’s set and directing, I was left struggling to understand the intricacies of the story. Perhaps details were lost to me within Charlotte’s thick German accent or Greenwald’s sometimes ever so subtle character metamorphoses.
There are two things that could easily remedy this unsettled feeling I had as the proverbial curtain went down. First, I wish I had done some light research on Charlotte von Mahlsdorf and her museum in Berlin, Germany. It would have put some much-needed context around the opening scenes. Secondly, a second viewing of the show would probably fill in any gaps I experienced the first time around. Luckily I have the convenience of comp tickets since the Jungle and I are acquainted with one another. If you plan on seeing Bradley display his 40 characters to you, I recommend taking a look at both the history of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf herself, and the play I Am My Own Wife before settling into the cozy theater the Jungle has to offer.
Samantha Veldhouse is the Arts & Entertainment Editor of Secret Laboratory. Originally from rural North Dakota, Ms. Veldhouse went to school for literature and writing at Bemidji State University, but fell into the theater community while she was there. After graduating with a BA in English, she moved to Minneapolis where she has been known to tap into Twin Cities theater performing with the Brave New Institute and Huge Theater; she also produces independently with the Minnesota Fringe Festival. When Samantha isn’t creatively displaying herself on stage, she’s documenting her life on her blog at intheveldhouse.blogspot.com. She currently works as an Academic Advisor at Capella University and lives in her trusty uptown studio with her laptop.
E-mail Ms. Veldhouse at firstname.lastname@example.org.