Saturday, February 13, 2016

Review: 'I am My Own Wife'

Theatre Horizon's compelling, thought-provoking production invites the audience to judge truth from fiction.

Review: ‘I am My Own Wife’


By Jim Rutter


Do you like your biographies historically accurate or delivered with artistic license? Your preferences—and judgment—matter much in how you’ll respond to Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife, now receiving a sharply performed, thought-provoking production at Theatre Horizon.  

Wright’s one-person play centers around interviews he conducted from 1992-1993 with Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (Charlie DelMarcelle), an East German transvestite and antiquarian who ran the Gründerzeit Museum, and provided a haven for gays and lesbians during the repressive East German regime. In DelMarcelle’s performance, Charlotte easily engages and at first captivates, convincing Wright in her interviews that she is nothing less than “the most singular eccentric individual the cold war ever birthed”.

But like the antiques she preserves, her stories crack and embellishments lose luster, and Wright discovers that this unlikely survivor of both the Nazis and the German Democratic Republic may have endured and amassed her museum’s collection by purloining items from deported Jews and from dissidents arrested by the East German secret police.

DelMarcelle’s complex performance amplifies these dichotomies, deepening the division between Wright’s quest for truth and Charlotte’s desire to preserve her own myth. He portrays over 30 roles, these delineated without costume but only by DelMarcelle’s remarkable changes of gait and posture, and the subtle, skilful shifts in tone of David Todaro’s lighting that match the changes in DelMarcelle’s tenor.

Wright’s play invites us to judge her—an action his character mostly refuses to perform. As a gay man who grew up in the Bible Belt, Wright needed her story of survival to be true. Here too, DelMarcelle embraces and adds to the complexity, never baiting us to sympathize with either Wright or Charlotte’s emotional attachment to either version of her story. As written, the script is as much about Wright as it is about Charlotte; at Theatre Horizon, we’re equal participants, asked to evaluate each revelation in the short pauses of Kathryn MacMillan’s direction.

So which do you prefer? Hard truth or comforting fiction? In Charlotte’s story, “art survives.”


I Am My Own Wife. Presented through November 24 at Theatre Horizon, 401 DeKalb Street, Norristown. Tickets: $22 to $35. Information: 610-283-2230 or 

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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